by Michele Kinnon (Nov. 2013)
You have chosen a school and your children are enrolled. Now what? How do you best support their efforts? If your children are very young and you plan on living in Mexico for a few years or longer, they will have no trouble at all picking up Spanish and making friends. While you are struggling to conjugate verbs and roll your "r's,", your children will be speaking fluently in no time. Your role in this process is to make the transition as smooth as possible for your children.
- Hablas español? Chances are that you, like your offspring, are just beginning to learn Spanish. As fun as it may seem, resist the temptation to try out your new Spanish with them in the home. Unless your Spanish is perfect, they will be better off listening to and imitating native Spanish speakers at school. Your best efforts will be spent maintaining the child's mother language in the home. While it is a priority that your young students become fluent in the language of their new home country, it is equally important that they are equally proficient in their own native tongue. Through the school administration and parent groups you can also seek out English-speaking families with whom to connect and reinforce your children's native language skills outside of the classroom.
Older children will have some catching up to do and may find it more difficult to acquire new language skills. Some children are particularly resistant to speaking Spanish long after they have begun to understand the language. Be patient and don't push. Make sure the school you choose has accommodations in place to "regularize" foreign students either in the classroom setting or after school. If no such groups are available at the school they will surely be able to recommend a tutor to work with your child to learn the language and complete homework assignments.
- Get involved at your children's school. Regardless of how much English is spoken at your child's school, all group meetings and conferences will most likely be held in Spanish. This can be very intimidating and frustrating for new parents who do not yet speak the language. Despite this significant barrier, make the effort to attend all meetings and events planned at the school. Chances are, you will find fellow Canadian or other expat families to connect with who can help you understand and navigate your way through the first few months. They will be able to introduce you to other parents, thus helping you build a social network in your new hometown.
Be sure your school provides you with a contact list for all the class parents. Remember, your child's homework assignments will be in Spanish. Until you have a firm grasp of the language you will need to reach out to other parents for help!
- Get social. Social media that is. Mexico is very savvy when it comes to social networking and this can be a great tool for you as you start your new life in Mexico. Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn ... everyone seems to be connecting online both personally and professionally.
Facebook in particular may be an excellent platform to connect with people not only here in your new home but also with friends and family back home. At the very least, Facebook can help you identify the parents of your child's friends and classmates. You are going to be meeting a lot of new people and you will need all the help you can get to keep them all straight. Many schools have created groups on Facebook that are used to efficiently disseminate notices and important grade-specific information to families and tutors. Parent and administrators utilize these groups to keep everyone up-to-date on upcoming meetings, evaluations, sporting events and festivals, both in and out of school. Families can use these groups to get to know one another and strengthen the sense of school community.
If your children are the appropriate age, they may find Facebook is a great way to solidify new friendships and seek out help for their homework assignments. Children planning to return to their home country will be able to keep up with their friends back home, making the transition back into their old life in Canada or the U.S. much easier.
- Maintain some consistency. As we have mentioned, very young children moving to Mexico with their families will have no trouble adjusting to their new life and a new language. Older children, with established friends and favorite activities, will need more of your support and guidance as they rebuild their life in a new place. Every effort should be made to ensure that they continue to pursue the activities that they enjoyed back home. If your daughter loves horses, find a nearby stable and sign her up in a group lesson. If your son plays the violin, find a teacher as quickly as possible and continue his training. If your children are into hockey ... well, that requires a bit more creativity. Look into other team sports like soccer or even American football. Many metropolitan areas have sports facilities with tracks for cyclists and in-line skaters. Keep an open mind and encourage your children to do so as well. They might not find exactly what they are hoping for but perhaps they will develop another interest along the way.
However you choose to educate you children in Mexico, keep in mind that you can always change your mind. You may decide to homeschool at first and then transition into a regular school setting. You may discover that your child cannot flourish in a regular classroom yet excels in an online education program. After a year or two in your new location, a new school may open up that you feel surpasses all the options you had previously considered. You may find that no one school fits the unique needs of each of your children and end up enrolling them in different schools! Realistically, there is no one educational model that is right for all students. We can only hope to find the best fit for each of our children.
Children are wonderful, resilient creatures and given the right tools and a loving support system will thrive in almost any situation. In the end, it shouldn't be the soccer stadium, the library or the computer science lab that sells you on a school. It should be the sense of school community and how welcomed you feel by the administrators, the teachers and the other families. If your child is unhappy and feels unwelcome, all the technology and athletic facilities in the world won't make her/him a successful student. Chose a school that feels right to you and your child, even if it is missing some of the bells and whistles you were hoping for, and you will increase your chances for a smooth transition into your new home in Mexico.