A couple weeks ago, Charlotte concluded her second year at the French preschool nearby. It was bittersweet.
On the one hand, I remember the day we dropped her off at preschool for the very first time. I was enormously pregnant with Evelyn and terrified of leaving Charlotte behind. What if this? What if that? What if the other thing? I fretted for four hours straight. Then I went to the school to pick her up and she did not want to leave. She fell asleep in the car on the way home and woke up asking to go back.
And so started a really wonderful relationship. Charlotte has had two teachers at preschool - one French, one Canadian - and we have adored them both. More importantly, Charlotte has loved them both. She has been with the same group of children for two consecutive years and we have watched in awe as they have all grown.
Watching her walk down to the aisle to her promotion ceremony, I was filled with joy. It is hard to believe how far she has come. Charlotte is as confident in French as she is in English. She frequently asks me to translate ideas for her back and forth between the two languages and we hear her babbling about in French as much as we do in English when she plays. It is saddening to think that she has grown so much (where does the time go?!), but I am so proud of her accomplishments these last two years. We are so grateful to the school and its community for helping us realize our goal of raising our children fluent in French and so excited to see what opportunities we have ahead of us in language learning.
Speaking of opportunities, the end of Charlotte’s second year of preschool has landed us in an interesting place in terms of education.
For a long time, we planned on sending Charlotte to the preschool for three years. The first year her class was called les chenilles, the caterpillars. This year her class was called les papillons, the butterflies. We have never put Charlotte in school for more than two days a week, so we thought we would repeat the butterfly year when she was five. More recently, however, we have realized that this might not be the best choice for her.
In France, the education system is divided into cycles. As best I can understand, the first section is divided into three parts: petite section (PS), moyenne section (MS) and grande section (GS). The second cycle is divided into five parts: cours preparatoire (CP), cours elementaire niveau 1 (CE1), cours elementaire niveau 2 (CE2), cours moyen 1 (CM1), and cours moyen 2 (CM2). At the French school, the first year of preschool in the caterpillar classroom covers the work of petite section. The second year of preschool in the butterfly classroom covers the work of moyenne section. Both years of preschool can be done a la carte - you can choose to attend mornings or afternoons, half-days or full-days, once a week or five times a week. The kindergarten, which includes several hours of English languages arts instruction, covers the work of grande section. The first grade covers the work of CP.
Charlotte has indicated some lack of satisfaction with the work done in MS for the last few months. After awhile, we brought it up with her teacher to get a more complete idea of what the problem was and how we could support Charlotte at home. The teacher and the school’s administrator told us Charlotte craved more challenging intellectual work. Over the past year, Charlotte has taught herself how to read at a beginner’s level in English and has started sounding out words in French. As such, the French school encouraged us to consider placing Charlotte in the kindergarten next year.
Unfortunately, the kindergarten at the French school is full-time. It runs seven hours daily all week long. As certain as Donald and I are that she could handle the academics in the kindergarten, we aren’t comfortable with full-time schooling at this stage. Additionally, it would be very difficult for us to afford the monthly tuition.
Our choices at the French school are these: we can repeat a year of preschool or we can enroll in kindergarten. If we choose preschool she will be part-time which suits our family and will be in a setting that is socially appropriate for her development level. Of course, she would also be bored with the work and very upset when she found out that her friends were all in kindergarten. If we choose kindergarten she will be with her friends and will be academically challenged, but it will be expensive and full-time which we don’t like.
Our other choice is to jump into full-time home-education now, a year earlier than anticipated. We would need to find native speakers to help us maintain her bilingualism in the home, would have to seek out social opportunities with her friends during after-school hours and on weekends, and would need to find French curriculum materials.
To this end, we recently hired two native French speakers - one from Cameroon and the other from Paris - to spend a few hours with us each week. Their job is to provide academic support (mostly reading and writing) and keep up Charlotte’s conversational level. We also recently purchased curriculum materials, downloaded free resources, began building a series of rough monthly plans, and collected the information we need to set up Francophone playdates and weekly French language instruction with other bilingual children.
We are giving it a try this summer to see how she likes it, how we adjust to having a structured daily homeschool environment, whether or not it is feasible to provide the social opportunities she needs in conjunction with the academic challenges she needs in both English and French, and if homeschooling is a good fit for our family. We thought, hey, if it works out then we have the materials to last us a couple years. Once she has a solid base in reading and writing, we will look into purchasing the CNED (the French government’s national distance learning program) by subject or as a complete curriculum. If it doesn’t work, we can put her in the CP/first grade level at school and she should catch up with her peers in a few weeks. If it goes horribly, who knows? Charlotte might end up in the kindergarten this year after all.
Going into this, I feel very much like I did the day we first dropped Charlotte off at preschool. What if this? What if that? What if the other thing? Here’s hoping that the pay off is just as delicious.