Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Why I ended the English/Spanish immersion with my French daycare children
At a certain point I had to make a choice and it gradually became clear that dropping the multiple languages was the best choice, although an unfortunate thing. I've been caring for my two daycare children since they were 4 and 5 months old. (They are 2 and 2 1/2 years old today and will finish daycare when they are 3, the normal age to start school in France.) When I signed contracts with the parents, both families were very enthusiastic about the linguistic possibilities I would be offering their children. And in the beginning it was working great. I followed the same program as with my own children: two weeks in Spanish, two weeks in English. Both babies were learning and progressing and it was amazing.
However, in my first year as a daycare provider I was independently employed. I was managing my own little enterprise and the parents individually selected me to care for their children. I only answered to them and decided on my own how I wanted to run my daycare. A year later, I was recruited by the municipal daycare. My status changed. I now have a director and an early childhood educator that I respond to. The parents no longer pay me directly. They send their check to the town hall and the municipal daycare sends me my salary. I no longer deal with contracts and my benefits range from bonuses to professional support and training, a team of co-workers and a variety of organized activities for the children. I lost a certain amount of autonomy, but gained many advantages for myself and my family and the daycare children. I do miss the autonomy and pride and pleasure of running my own little business.... but that's another story for another day!
From my first visits to the daycare playroom and other activities, it became evident that speaking English and Spanish was going to be a challenge. The looks my co-workers gave me as well as their well-intentioned comments made me understand that this linguistic program would not blend well with the municipal daycare objectives. I held my head high and sometimes low, and tried to press forward with something I believed in my heart to be good for these children.
At a certain point, my director told me that in my home I was welcome to speak whatever language I pleased with my daycare children, but when in the daycare facilities to please speak only French so as not to perturb the other children. I firmy responded that it would not perturb the other children, although it might upset my co-workers who did not understand or share my vision of multilingualism. However, I felt it was my professional duty to then oblige this request.
I was not going to let this obstacle get in the way. So while in the daycare facilties and while with other daycare children, I spoke French with my daycare children and as soon as we would walk away I would pick up with the English or Spanish. Now, I probably don't need to tell you, that this was very confusing for me. Already I have a hard enough time switching every two weeks with my own children, but you throw this into the sauce and my head was sometimes feeling like a bowl of spaghetti. But I hung in there and my daycare children understood everything in English and Spanish, could execute simple commands and were starting to say a few words.
After several months, I started to receive a third child on occasion when one of my co-workers was on holiday or ill. Needless to say, the multilingual thing became even more challenging because I certainly wasn't going to speak English or Spanish to a child who was only going to be in my home for a few days. And switching languages between these young children started to become so tiresome. I started speaking French to my daycare babies all the time and the more I did, the easier it became until English and Spanish simply got phased out. Sad, but true. And now it has been nearly a year that way.
Now, yesterday, I was coming downstairs and my two daycare children were sitting at the bottom of the stairs playing with their slippers and kept saying "zapatos, zapatos" (okay, so it's not exactly the right word, but they're only 2!) and when I ask the older boy (now 2 1/2) where his eyes, ears, mouth and nose are, he can still show me in all three languages! When I speak English to my own children, my daycare children often respond with a very American sounding "okay!" and when it's Spanish week and I suddenly yell out, "Niños, vamonos!" they run to get their coats on. So is it a total failure? I think not. They still hear me speaking with my children and so they are still being immersed or exposed to multiple languages although in an indirect way. When I read books to them, I read the actual words, no matter the language. And sometimes, just for fun, I still speak to them in English or Spanish.
What would you have done differently in my situation? Or how would you keep the languages alive for these two little ones in spite of the obstacles? And what benefits do you believe these children will still reap from the language experience they have had in their early years?