Starting school is a daunting thought for most parents, as your little one has grown up and is ready to take that next big leap in life. Rest assured that both yourself and your little one will have settled into your new school routine before you know it. If this is your first child starting school I’m sure you have an endless amount of questions, but if you’re sending your child to a Gaelscoil then I’m sure you probably have even more questions and queries!
The first couple of weeks in a Gaelscoil or Gaeltacht school is similar to any other school, the main aim to settle the children into class and get comfortable in their new surroundings. The main difference is that the majority of Gaelscoileanna will not teach any English until first class. This is what we refer to as tumoideachas, or immersion education. I cannot speak on behalf of all Gaelscoileanna, but for the huge majority English is not taught until first class to give the children a chance to become fluent in the Irish language. I remember having parents approach me with numerous concerns over how their child can go two years without learning English, how will they ever catch up if they are two years behind? Your child will catch up and by the time they are in the senior end of the school they will be in the exact same position as other children their age in an English medium school. Literacy skills transfer, no matter what language we are dealing with, the skill will transfer from Irish to English to French or German even! If your child has learnt the basic skill through Irish then they can apply that same skill to any other language. I hope this settles you slightly regarding any concerns of your child being immersed Irish language. There are numerous advantages of immersion education including increased educational attainment, more creative thinking and better understanding of the foundations of language.
As a native Irish language speaker I have had a love for Irish my entire life. I am a primary school teacher in a Gaelscoil and it brings me such joy to meet like-minded parents, those who have an interest in the language and want their children to have a grá for the language too. It is important to show your child that you are enthusiastic about the language and to use simple phrases with the staff of the school to encourage your child to follow in your footsteps. To help yourself and your child prepare for this new journey I have complied a list of simple recommendations below which can easily be applied during the summer months.
Uimhreacha – Numbers
It would be beneficial to have your child become familiar with the numbers one to ten through Irish. Simply counting a haon, a dó, a trí aloud with them in an informal manner so that they begin to hear the language. When in the car you could ask your child how many cars do you see? I see a haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathair, I see a ceathair. How many do you see?
Dathanna – Colours
Again, similar to the numbers above, it would be great for a child entering a Gaelscoil to be familiar with the colours through Irish. By no means would I recommend to sit down and drill the numbers and colours into any child during the break! Simply mentioning the colour of things in the environment such as, “look that apple is dearg”, “the sky is gorm”, “the leaves are glas”. This is a nice way to subtly begin teaching a language and relating the language to your everyday life.
Each family have their own preferences when it comes to screen time. I would highly recommend that during screentime over the summer months you make use of the wide variety of Irish language resources Cúla4 have to offer both online and on the TV. Cúla4.com is the one-stop-shop for all things Gaeilge for young viewers. You have access online to hundreds of cartoons through Irish. These shows include SpongeBob Squarepants, Horrid Henry, Alvin and the Chipmunk, to only name a few of the wide range of shows available. Swapping an English language episode for an Irish language episode may be strange for your child at first, but by the time September comes around they will be more aware of their new language and more than likely will understand more than you would expect.
Leabhra – books
Joining the local library can be an enjoyable past time for a family and will be an extremely beneficial stepping stone towards your child learning to read in the future. I would recommend to check out the Irish children’s book section of your local library and make reading stories through Irish part of your bedtime routine. If Irish is not a strong point of yours, or you struggle with Irish there is no need to worry, having your child looking at the text and even pointing out some of the Irish words you can recognise would be useful. Create your own story based on the pictures and count things that you can see through Irish, or point out different colours that you can recoginse as Gaeilge.
Do chumas féin – Your own ability
Moving on from the point above, it is not essential for you to be fluent in Irish, nor have any previous experience with the Irish language to join a Gaelscoil. However improving your own cúpla focal in the run up to your child starting school might be something you wish to consider. Simply saying ‘Dia dhuit’ to your child’s teacher in the morning, and ‘slán’ in the afternoon will show your child that the language has an importance in your family and that they aren’t alone in learning Irish. Seeing and hearing their parents communicate through Irish will motivate your child to follow in your footsteps. There are a number of ways to improve your own Irish as your child progresses through their school years, but the most important aspect of this new experience is to remember your child will want to follow in your footsteps. If you are willing to show initiative and willingness to learn, your child will mirror that. The cúpla focal at home, at the school gates and around friends and family will be the making of a fluent Irish speaker.
If you wish to delve deeper into improving your own Irish during the summer months I will be hosting a workshop for parents who are sending their child to a Gaelscoil. The workshop will consist of tips and tricks to further improve your child’s Irish at home, including resources, books recommendations and useful websites. I will also spend some time working on useful phrases and common phrases you may come across as part of homework or some phrases you may need for correspondence with the teacher and the school.
To register your interest in this workshop head over to Grá don Ghaeilge on Instagram or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.