The girl starts kindergarten in September. While still months away, I have already spent months thinking about what school to send her to. Today a decision was made. She is registered.
I had always assumed that we would send her to the French immersion school five minutes from our house. I liked the idea of a neighbourhood school she could walk to. Then the girl started preschool and I learnt more about the alternative school housed in the same building as her preschool. All of a sudden a choice had to be made.
I thought a lot about the two schools. I talked to a lot of parents with kids at both schools and parents that were planning to send their kids to one of the schools. I reflected on my own elementary school experience.
My final assessment came down to what the schools each offer and what we are looking for in a school.
There are three things I want the kids to get out of elementary school:
1. A love of learning: The girl already has a love of learning. She loves to look at books. She is interested in her letters. She wants to learn. I would like her to be in school environment where learning is enjoyable and it is presented as something fun. I don't want school at this age to be about memorization and rules. A love of learning is something that will carry these kids through the rest of their lives.
2. A sense of belonging to a community: Eventually, our kids will be spending almost as much time at school as they will with us. I would like those hours to be spent somewhere that fosters a sense of community among its students. I want them to learn that the world is full of different people and every day is an opportunity to learn how to live together. I want the school environment to make them feel a part of larger family outside of our nuclear one.
3. Confidence and self-esteem: The husband and I will do our best to teach our kids to value themselves, but we need to know that they will be learning in an environment with the same values. Peers become so important to kids. I want to know that they are in a school where bullying is not accepted in the classroom and where kids are taught respect for themselves and others.
It was really the conversations with the other parents that solidified the decision for me. Parents of kids at the alternative school all said they chose it because of the approach to learning and the positive environment. These are things I want for my kids. The parents with kids at the French immersion all said they chose it because it was French immersion. I heard some good things about some teachers, but I also heard some things about other teachers that made me uncomfortable. With mixed reviews, we had to decide if the language of instruction was more important than the overall school environment. We decided it wasn't.
I am surprised by our decision in the end. I had always thought the kids would go to French immersion, partly because I had myself. But as the time to choose drew closer I found myself reflecting back on my own experience and wondering if it had been the best choice.
I had trouble learning to read and write. I never read on my own until grade four. I struggled to read out loud in class all the way into high school. I always had marks taken off in class essays and papers for spelling and grammar mistakes (ah, the days before computers). The teachers at my school told my mom that if I just read more I would learn to spell. I just needed to study more. I just need to practice more. It was just me. I don't ever remember being told I was stupid, but I sure felt it.
I would have had these difficulties if I was going to school in English, but it was more challenging going to school in French. It meant that I struggled to read and write in two languages, feeling like I never mastered either. Today, working in both languages, I still struggle.
I know my kids aren't me. They will have there own learning challenges and strengths. If I can, though, I would like to spare them from some of the same difficulties I had. I would like them to have the chance to build a foundation in one language before layering on another. They will still learn French. It will just be part of their day, not all of it.
I think we made the right decision for us. It feels good. I am excited for her. I can't wait to see what happens next.