Wednesday, November 01, 2006

He might be hyper-active…

The Reception year at Chorleywood Primary School was a very masculine class – over 20 boys and a handful of girls. The girls settled down with worksheets and practiced writing while the boys tore around role-playing cowboys and dragon-killers. I discovered from other mothers that the Reception year was not the gentle lead-in to school it was supposed to be, but the first crucial year of school. In Year 2 (around age 7) the class would sit the British national SATS test, which would affect the rating of the school. To pass these tests in two years time the children needed to be ‘fluent’ readers, and progress was slow. I went in to help out with the reading every two weeks. Some kids could whiz through a book, while others could barely pick out a familiar sentence. But these kids were only four years old, and they looked so young in their brand-new gray and burgundy school uniforms.

Reports were sent out in the first term, and Jacques and I had our first ever parent-teacher meeting. We waited nervously outside the classroom, looking at some of Marc’s work and wondering what we were supposed to say. ‘I’ve done the baseline Reception tests and Marc is well below average with his language.’ Mrs. Lund said sadly. She went on to explain that Marc had problems with pronouncing ‘y’ and ‘sh’ and was very distracted in class. He couldn’t write his name ‘properly’ or do the writing worksheets. He might even be ‘hyper-active’ she added and was ‘socially immature’. We tried to explain that he had two languages at home, had come from at French pre-school and recently moved house. The teacher looked really worried, as if it hadn’t occurred to her that Jacques was French or that we might actually speak French at home. She suggested a Speech Therapist, and although she didn’t say ‘Drop the French!’ she was probably thinking it. Jacques said he would like a proper psychologist to test Marc for hyper-activity and Mrs. Lund promptly downgraded him to ‘active’, and assured us there was no need for that kind of intervention yet. We left feeling very unsettled about the meeting and what exactly was wrong with Marc. It seemed like he was not up to standard.

The British educational system favours the ‘average’ child. Bright kids are bored and held back in class. Slow kids who need extra help, and those with learning problems or dyslexia, are quickly diagnosed in Reception, but the parents must lobby for external tutoring or in-class assistance. But Marc didn’t have any real problems; he was simply not ready to settle into academic life, like several of his boy peers. The boys were into Lego, Mechano, making train sets and building castles with boxes. They communicated with actions not language. Writing, reading and copying letters did nothing for them. If he had stayed in the French system he would have been allowed to play more, because academic reading and writing starts at age six, in the CP class. But we had made our choice and we must stick with it. Most days Marc was happy to go to school and had several good friends. After-school he would go to play or invite his friends to our house. I became good friends too with the mothers of George, Louis, Ewan, Joshua and Sam and we had fun birthday parties and get-togethers.

We decided to stay in England for Christmas and invited my parents and my sister for Christmas Day. Over the last five years of being a family we had alternated Christmas in France and England. But I was frustrated by the French families lack of decorations, emphasis on the 24th rather the 25th and putting out slippers instead of socks for Santa. Jacques was also keen to do our own thing rather than expect the in-laws to do everything for us. My birthday is on the 25th December too, and I was feeling embarrassed that my mum, or Odile, were making a birthday cake for me, and I thought the kids could take over that part. This year the children were old enough to participate and it was time to create our ‘own’ Christmas. We decorated the house and tree early in December and indulged in all the carols, pantomimes and Santa-visits we could find. It felt great to be in England and I realized how much I loved December. But as the 25th approached Jacques refused to buy a turkey. Why not? I protested. He said the turkey was over-priced (true) and was so dry when it was cooked it didn’t impress him. After much heated discussion we settled on a turkey and cranberry sauce starter, followed by fish then a leg of lamb cooked by Jacques. I refused to drop the traditional English Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and brandy butter. It was wonderful to do our own Christmas though, on the day the children were truly amazed to find their gifts, which Santa had left a la française on top of their slippers… and later on in the day the children prepared my birthday cake and helped make an afternoon tea. My parents and sister didn't mention the lack of turkey and had a good time seeing Christmas through Marc and Nina's eyes, albeit with a slightly French flavour...

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