I want to share how the kids are doing at school but I'm having a difficult time explaining it. The main reasons are:
1. I'm not there. I don't know what actually happens. All I get is what I hear through the mental processors and then vocabularies of a 4 and 6 year old who don't yet understand the school culture or the language being spoken around them. I'm just not sure how accurate that can possibly be.
2. Someday the kids will probably look back on this and read it, and I don't want to describe the experience inaccurately or in a way that will embarrass them (too much. Yes, I'm aware that being embarrassing to my kids is inevitable). It's all very vague and foggy due to #1, and then my own subjective and emotional interpretation is layered on top of that.
3. Things are so up and down that if I blog about it today, it might be completely different if I were to blog about it tomorrow!
But I'll stick to some basic "facts" as I see them.
1. They really do play ALL the time. There seem to be a few basic academic activities (calendar, weather, letter sounds, simple math) and a few structured activities, but a huge chunk is free play, and outdoor free play whenever possible. A big focus is on large motor skills (including dance) which I think is very different than the US.
2. The teachers are telling me that things are going well overall and they are glad to have the kids in their classes.
3. Academics: There was some question initially as to whether it would be appropriate for Daphne do another year in pre-primary to gain more language skills before moving to 1st grade in the fall. But it sounds like she is advanced enough in reading and writing in English that it will be okay for her to continue, even though she will still be far behind in speaking/understanding Luxembourgish. The German alphabet and letter sounds are similar enough to English that the teacher thinks she will adjust quickly enough when reading and writing kicks in next year. Unless parents have been working on reading at home with their kids, all they really know before entering 1st grade is the basic letter sounds, but not how to read words. James has 2 more years to learn Luxembourgish before the real "academics" begin for him, so that adjustment should be fine.
4. Speaking: They are learning a few Luxembourgish words/phrases in isolation and their accents sound cool. It's great fun to hear them. They can sing a few lines of songs they sing at school, but there tend to be big sections of humming and "blank, blank, blank" if they attempt the complete song. You hear so much about how "kids this age pick up language so quickly" that you can start thinking it will be instantaneous, but it's still going to be a long process before they understand and then speak. And I do think the teachers "cheat" and speak to my kids in English maybe more than they should! I have witnessed it at pick-up and drop off time, anyway.
5. Socialization: All things considered--that they came at the very end of the year, all the other kids already have their friendships established, they don't speak the language, and they are the only Americans (and I think the only Americans in the whole elementary school), I'd say they are adjusting well. James appears to be doing fine socially (either that or he's not aware that he's not!) There's a little girl that seems to be his "best friend" and he's mentioned several other "friends." I think he was a bit of a puzzlement to his teachers at first - he's so mellow and subdued and on his own schedule - observing a long time before participating - but I think they're starting to figure him out. There are still many difficult days (I'd say more so for Daphne, since the kids are older and I think know how to be "mean" and exclusive when they want to be, and in turn, because she has more awareness of this than a 4 year old does.) There are a couple girls that seem to have warmed up to her a bit, and she proudly shares with us about these sorts of small victories. Fortunately, Daphne is a positive, resilient sort and we're hoping that will continue to carry her though and past the rough days. I know there are many more to come.
6. There are days when it's very difficult and even heart-breaking for me/us as parents and I wonder if we're putting them through "unnecessary hardship." At the same time, it does continue to feel like the "right choice" to give immersion a try. There will be disappointment and heart-break no matter where we live, it's called being a parent. We continue to trust, hope, and pray.
Anyway, I'll wrap up or I'll never get this posted. I hope I've shed some (mildly accurate) light on the experience so far.