It's been three weeks since school started, just enough time to take a step back and report on how Noah and Dylan are each adapting. I'll start with some background on what our expectations were and then move on to how things are unfolding.
Both of our kids have had very limited exposure to the French language (through no fault of their own). They know things like 'bonjour', 'merci', 'fille', 'garçon', and how to order a meal in a restaurant (often with a little help from us). Considering we live in Québec, that's terrible. As someone who went through the French-immersion program here and now consider myself only mildly- bilingual, I swore when Noah was a baby that if I ever did send him to school, it would be in the French system, with French-speaking children. But in the end we opted to homeschool, and failed miserably in the French department. We've dabbled with Rosetta Stone, workbooks, flash cards, and private tutors knowing that would only just scratch the surface (and I admit we were never exactly great at consistency). So it's the one area that's always kind of nagged at me as a parent.
For these reasons, Dan and I chose an all-French school on purpose. At ages 10 & almost-14, we knew it would be tough on them (a number of people have even told us well-meaning variations of: "you can't do that to them!") but we also knew that they could handle it. We didn't gloss over the challenge, we told them it would be really, really frustrating for a while and that they very well may come home every day in tears for the first couple of months. We figured it was only fair to be realistic about it so that they didn't come away feeling totally incompetent or overwhelmed. We assured them that all we expect from them in the beginning is that they show up and make an effort. The rest will follow.
We felt confident that they would have no problems making friends, as this has never been a challenge for them. The school has an enriched second-language English program so we knew that most of the kids would at least be able to communicate with them on a basic level and that some kids would even be fluently bilingual.
Academics is honestly the least of our worries. As previous unschoolers, we obviously don't care about grades or where they stand in comparison with their peers, although it's nice to have a general idea from time to time. What's important for us is whether or not they feel engaged, challenged, confident, competent, and free to make mistakes. The Montessori approach was a perfect match for us in that respect.
So now I'll try my best to walk the line of being upfront and honest while also protecting their privacy. I'll tackle the areas of language, friends, and academics separately.
As a ninth-grader, Noah has a full year to ease into things before shit gets real and he has to write government exams. This allows him a good chunk of time to adapt to the language but in order to give him a boost he's dismissed from class four times a week for an hour of one-on-one time with one of the French teachers. We've met with her and she is amazing. Two days ago Noah said to me "oh my god, mom, I'm, like, thinking in French now". His other teachers have found a way to help him out as efficiently as possible (for example, they have him highlight whatever words he doesn't understand so that they can quickly explain the bits he needs help with). Learning French was once a chore and now that he sees how quickly he's improving, it's almost becoming fun. Dylan's situation is different but he, too, is having 'fun' with French. He happens to be entering during the first of a two-year cycle during which the grades 5's and 6's undergo an intensive English program - every second week all of his studies are conducted in English. The advantage for him as an anglo kid new to school is clear, but the disadvantage is that during that time some of the material will likely be less challenging. So we'll wait and see how that unfolds. So far he likes both of his teachers.
Noah has started to make some connections with the other kids. He's even got a classmate who was also homeschooled up until this year and she is fluently bilingual. Dylan is having a harder time. It took us a few days to realise that it's not because the other kids aren't interested in hanging out with him, it's that he's just so much more comfortable around older kids - some of his best friends have been as many as 3 years older, so there's a bit of a maturity gap that he's struggling with. But there are two boys that he seems to be 'clicking' with, and I don't doubt he'll find his groove soon enough. Both of my kids have noted how strange it is that all the boys sit at one table and all the girls at another. There doesn't seem to be too much inter-mingling among genders which is very different from what they experienced at Communidée. Lastly, they both really miss their Montreal friends.
I'm happy to report that despite years of completely eschewing any form of conventional lessons or curriculums, so far both of the kids are completely up-to-speed with what is being taught. The four of us are happy to see that we've indeed been on the right track all of these years, and that the last year and a half of weekly tutoring was a perfect complement to their otherwise 'unschooled' lifestyle. Both boys seem to be enjoying what they're learning in school, for the most part.
So that's it. All in all, things are unfolding a lot more smoothly and quickly than what Dan and I were bracing ourselves for, even though the boys might not see it that way. They moan and complain about going, but the light at the end of the tunnel is looking closer and brighter than we, as parents, could have hoped for and we notice a slight skip in their step as they make their way to the car on most mornings.
In a few more days I'll post an update on how the two of us have been adjusting to this new chapter!