School, Academics and Bilingualism

When I had my first baby I had many convictions of the type of mother I wanted to be: loving, involved, strict, active… the list can go on for a while. I have adjusted some expectations in part because of my children’s different personalities and in part because of life just being different than what I thought it would be. Sometimes I have had to think twice about carrying on a certain plan being aware that my Type-A personality may be asking too much of a young child.

Now that my 5-year-old is in kindergarten, I have found that many expectations that I had for what school was going to be, do not really fit with reality. For starters, I thought that mastering one skill after another was just going to come easily. I thought that because my daughter loves to tell me all of the social aspects of school, she was going to be as open to share what she was learning and what she was having trouble getting. I thought that bilingualism was going to come just with exposure to both languages, but I have come to the conclusion that if I want my kids to be bi-literate also, it is going to take much more than just keep speaking to them in both languages.

I must confess that raising bilingual children has been much harder than I had anticipated. It is especially hard when I’m trying to get them to tell me about what they learned in school as all the new vocabulary is in English. It would be so much easier to just carry out the conversation in English but then, I would lose the opportunity to give them what I consider an amazing gift.

I had thought that when my daughter went to school full time, I was going to teach her the alphabet and how to read and write in Spanish simultaneously as she learned the skills in English. In reality, that method proofed to be a little harder than what I had anticipated.

It was that first teacher evaluation in kindergarten with an annexed note stating that she needed extra help, what made me realized that I was probably pushing my little girl too hard. She was getting the phonetics of both languages mixed up and needed extra help at school to master the alphabet in English.

I have stopped actively teaching her Spanish but continue to draw a very defined line between the languages. Outside of the house and with school-related activities, we speak English, everything that is exchanged between the family members, must be done in Spanish -even when it takes a little prompting from me. Once she masters how to read in English, I will start my quest of teaching her how to do the same in Spanish. In the mean time, I do not want to impose on her something that she has shown me she’s not ready for.

I have come to realize that school is more than just the academics, and though I would still prefer my children to be at the top of their class, what is most important to me at this point is for my daughter to feel confident, to learn how to maneuver the ups and downs of friendship and to have an overall positive experience at school. That is why at the parent-teacher conferences this week my questions will center around her well-being -I’m sure her teacher will focus on the academics in all cases.

Wish me luck at the conference!


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