I know a lot of parents rejoiced when the government announced a Grade One French Immersion program would be available next September. I was not one of them.
It’s quite distressing to try to decide just a few months into our school experience whether or not we think our Kindergartener will respond well changing to a French Immersion classroom. She loves school now, especially her language arts curriculum. Will trying to teach her the basics of another language, without having finished grasping what she started to learn this year, become a confusing muddle that will impact her joy of learning? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I’m over thinking. Maybe I wish the government had over-thought it a little more, too.
What was so wrong with starting in Grade Three? As someone who worked at learning a second language as a child, teen, and adult, I know that earlier is better for language; the parts that stick with me are the words and phrases I learned as a child. I understand there is a history of Grade One Immersion producing wonderful French speakers in this province. But I don’t see proof that the same great results weren’t happening with a Grade Three entry point, because the program hasn’t been in place long enough to graduate a class to evaluate.
If the government really wanted to make French Immersion a priority, I would rather have seen a Kindergarten immersion entry in 2017. Alberta offers this option, and it seems to make more sense to me. Let’s start are Kindergarten students in a learning environment with a new language being introduced, rather than switch after just one year. A 2018 announcement of this approach would have been ideal, in my mind, allowing parents, teachers, and administrators more time to prepare for the changes.
The Grade One announcement has left us all scrambling to make decisions, allocate classroom space, and rework curriculum from 2008. And who’s to say it won’t all change again in two years with the next configuration of government? Education should be a major priority for every party, but so should calculated decisions that are made with the best interests of children’s learning in mind, not what changes will elicit votes. We’ve got a few bumpy years ahead while this program gets sorted out properly.
Our daughter is one of the lucky kids who does well in a classroom setting. So it seems an easy choice to put her in early Immersion, offer her the challenge and opportunity of learning a new language. But will she really be challenged? She loves that she’s learning to read and to write in Kindergarten; she comes home and writes stories in her journal already – because that’s what interests her. I have a serious concern that, while learning a language can be challenging, she actually won’t find an immersion classroom a challenge. As it was explained to parents at an information session, the early immersion years are about front-loading vocabulary and learning through play. While I fully support the learn-through-play approach, will our six-year-old be happy playing basic word games and kiddie songs when she’s already trying to write stories at home? I’m not sure.
I feel confident in our ability to help her continue to pursue those interests at home, and we’ll fully support the French Immersion curriculum. But it seems so many kids have a tenuous relationship with school and I’m fearful of her losing her joy of the classroom because of a decision we make. And since late immersion isn’t expected to be offered at our current school, it’s now or never in our minds.