My daughter entered French Immersion last year, at six-years old. (Immersion starts in Grade 1 for my school board.) The first year here is 50/50 immersion, meaning she had French half of the day and English the other half.
Also, somewhat unique to my school board is the ability to just walk into the program. We have no lottery. If you want to get in, you get in. If your catchment school doesn’t offer FI, you can be bussed to a school that does offer it. Here it is a right, not a stroke of luck, to get into the program.
My husband is an FI high school graduate. I did core French only. Neither of us had particularly strong feelings on whether or not our children would take part in the program. When the time came to make the decision, I waffled. Would she succeed? Would it be too challenging? Would it risk her not loving school?
Ultimately, we deferred to her kindergarten teacher. If she felt my daughter was a good candidate for the program, we would enrol her. If she was concerned my daughter would struggle, we would opt to go the English stream. Contrary to my wonderful friend who says every child can succeed in FI if they give it a chance, I know far too many stories of parents whose children struggled terribly and hated going to school while they were in immersion. I wasn’t going to go blindly into the program. We got the vote of confidence from the teacher and, as my daughter heads into Grade 2, with one year of French Immersion under her belt, I thought I’d share the top 3 things I learned about French Immersion in my daughter’s first year.
There is a lot of homework
This was something I hadn’t really been warned of or prepared for. I have grown to understand from other FI parents, even those in different boards, that this is the norm. Immersion kids always have a lot of homework.
Having a parent who knows French might not be necessary, but it would sure be helpful
Here’s the thing. No, you don’t need to understand what your children are saying. Theoretically they should know what they’re saying and be able to tell you. But, especially in my daughter’s first year, while I’m still helping her one-on-one with homework, I found it challenging to read with her and know if I was pronouncing words correctly. The last thing I wanted to do was tell her the wrong thing! This will likely get easier as she gets older and can do her work more independently, but for now I feel pretty useless, homework-wise.
I underestimated my child’s ability
I truly don’t think that the program is for everyone. I know many people disagree with that statement but that is my personal feeling. I was totally prepared for my daughter to struggle. Not because she’s not smart. Not because she’s not capable. But because she tends to be overwhelmed by challenges she feels she will struggle to overcome. I was worried she’d struggle and hate school before giving herself the chance to learn. I was surprised how well she adjusted to the program and how seamlessly she was able to take on the challenge. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it went the other way. For many families it does. Halfway through the year three kids dropped out of her class. It’s one of those things; you never know unless you try.