Well, I did it.
I bit the bullet and signed Big Boy up for a preschool. Big Boy will be 5 in November, but wasn’t eligible to start “prematernelle 4 ans” until this coming September. I am glad for the extra time with him at home, since he only arrived here in Canada from China at 22 mos old, and also to give him some time to catch up in his languages. After going to French-language daycare for two years (he started Nov 2008) two days a week, I think he’ll ready for more of a challenge this fall.
But I had had no idea that signing him up for one particular school over another would be so stressful. I had always assumed that he would go to the small neighborhood school that is only two blocks away, facing the park where we walk Xiao Chien. I assumed this since 1995 when I moved into this neighborhood. There were moves to close it down about ten years ago, as the population aged, but I cheered when community pressure complete with “Save Our School!” banners hanging off balconies succeeded in keeping it open.
It is a French language school, for 4 yr old pre-K through grade 3. It has an annex at the end of our street (even closer for Big Boy to walk to) for grades 4-6. Highschool starts at grade 7 in Quebec.
Well, enter Big Boy’s language difficulties.
And yes, thankyou to everyone who pointed out that he is a boy, is cleft affected, has changed countries, has changed languages, is learning multiple languages etc etc. Unfortunately none of these things can now account for, two years later, the lag in his expressive language. His vocab is great when you ask him what things are, and increases exponentially every 6 months when he has another speech evaluation. But his sentences have not kept up, and have scarcely evolved in the past six months. He is at LEAST a year or more behind. And yes, in Quebec, the speech therapists are used to dealing with adopted children, with children who speak a minority language at home, with bi and trilingualism, and we were at the Cleft Clinic, so they are used to the effects of that as well. Indeed while we were in the waiting room, the other family there was a father with two young boys, who spoke Mandarin, the daughter was in therapy in English, and she went to French school. My son is NOT the exception to the norm here.
The therapist said that none of those things could continue to excuse the lag at this point. And as the Cleft Clinic deals more in actual speech (can he pronounce correctly) we didn’t get a block of therapy, but instead were referred to a Centre where they specialize in hearing and speech disorders. We’ve been on the waiting list since October and they warned us it would be at least a year (which is why I am looking into community resources as per my last post).
Now over Christmas I found out that this Centre also has a school, which is part of the English Language School Board here. They actually have 4 yr old Pre-K through grade 3 (and beyond if needed). The mother of another boy adopted from China says her son has improved fantastically while in school there and recommended it. There are speech therapists within the school, so no running around to appointments all over town and missing school. They even have door to door bus service for the kids.
Now, it makes more sense to give a solidly anglophone-identified child speech therapy in English. Indeed it would be hard to evaluate his sentence structure in French, as he seldom utters a complete French sentence at this point. He has understood almost everything you say to him in French for almost two years now, and now will answer “oui!” when asked a French question, has lots of vocab, and for the past couple of weeks has even started accosting strangers on the street to ask “Quoi appelle?” to find out the name of their dog. But the lack of sentence structure in French is really normal as it is his third language since birth, and it is not the dominant language in his life.
In Quebec, things are quite complicated (both in daily life, getting services and in schooling). There is an English Language School Board and a French Language School Board. And because of language laws, only certain people are eligible for a certificate to go to English school. My son happens to be one of those people, since I did the majority of my primary school in English within Canada. I have to apply for a letter attesting to such from my home province (which I have done).
But, do I want him to go to school in English? I am working so hard on getting him bilingual in English and French and he is making huge progress in daycare. He told me just yesterday “Taotao talk French in garderie, mommy. And in dancing class too talk French. And play with le Petit Chevalier (his little friend) too talk French. Taotao knowing French mommy!”
And if he went to preschool, kindergarten and grade one in English, how hard would it be for him to then merge into a French classroom? I personally can help him with his English phonics (see ReadingEggs post), and feel very comfortable with English grammar. But I learned French slowly and painfully as a teen and young adult, and would have a hard time teaching a new reader how to sound out “parfait” “souliers” “Mireille” “bateau”… I know they have completely different methods of teaching all those vowel combinations. And my vocab is probably not the best compared to what they expect in a francophone school. Touring two schools during open houses the past couple of weeks made that very clear.
So, I do have a preference to send him to French school despite his language delays. Well, turns out that one of the neighborhood schools, perhaps 10-15 minutes walk away, through a commercial district, has speech therapists on staff. It is a much larger school, pre-K through grade 6. It seems to have better, newer and spiffier equipment. The rooms are larger, the yard is larger. And there was even a family there, newly immigrated from China, who spoke Mandarin with their 4 yr old daughter who is currently in English daycare here. That is a big draw. Slogging all those extra blocks through the snow all winter is not.
But I let emotion rule the day. The closest school is tiny and so close. It is friendly and homey. All the teachers and kids know each other’s names. They are very artsy fartsy and do lessons based on Matisse and Riopelle. The pre-K teacher talked convincingly about learning to name and express emotions in an acceptable and controlled manner through play and allegory. They offered milk and gingerbread men with red sugar sprinkles at the open house. And they have great lunchtime and afternoon care: we see their students traipsing through the park to the playground daily when we walk Xiao Chien. And Big Boy’s best buddy, le Petit Chevalier, will be starting there this fall too.
And I already have to deal with the fact that out of 210+ students, 200 are in the lunchtime and afterschool program, and unlike my maternal fantasies for the past 45 years, my son will likely NOT come home for lunch every day. That is already so hard to swallow!
So, will I regret it? Will I wish I had sent him to the specialized language school in English? Will I wish I had sent him to the larger French school with a speech therapist on staff? I don’t know. I figure, this is just Pre-K for four year olds. If he falls behind, I can move him for Kindergarten or Grade One. That is what I tell myself.
But for now, I want him close to home, close to friends, in a small friendly homey environment that feels right.