Starting in September, the Toronto Catholic District School Board will be offering a multi-lingual program for kids in Kindergarten and Grade 1. Throughout the day the language of instruction will shift between English, French, Mandarin and Spanish. The goal of the program is to have kids graduate high school fluent in all four languages.

This seems ill advised for many reasons. First of all, Kindergarten-aged children have a hard time with transitions, and Kindergarten teachers are encouraged to minimize the number of transitions during the day. This program is already starting out with four as the languages change (not counting transitions like coming to school, going to and from lunch and home time). The more transitions, the more taxing it is on their ability to self regulate. I suspect they are going to see difficult behaviour from overwhelmed children. What’s more, the adults in the room are going to be changing throughout the day, making it harder for the children to bond to their caregivers, which is important at this age for a sense of wellbeing.

Secondly, the Ontario Kindergarten program is designed to be a play-based program with the children spending most of the day in self-directed activities. I don’t see how the amount of language instruction that will need to happen in this multi-lingual program can occur in a play based setting. I suspect they will spend a lot of time on the carpet receiving direct instruction, further taxing their ability to self regulate.

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There is good evidence that direct instruction based Kindergarten programs lead to poorer outcomes than play-based ones, not just in academics but also in the social/emotional realms.

What’s more they have repeatedly billed this program as “different subjects taught in different languages”. The revised Kindergarten program that came out from Ministry of Education last summer deliberately did away with discrete subjects. The program is instead organized around the “Four Frames”: Belonging and Contributing, Self-Regulation and Well-Being, Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and Problem-Solving and Innovating. To silo it back off into subjects so different subjects can be covered in different languages, after the architects of the program got rid of subjects, seems ill-advised.

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Also, the basis of this program seems to be the attitude if French Immersion is good, more language instruction is better. I am not sure this is true. I know young brains are supposed to pick up languages quickly, but they aren’t generally exposed to this many languages at one time, and expected to pick the most all up. Also a friend of mine whose children took French Immersion says that there is a trade off, where, in order to get the French in, the kids spend less time on subjects like Science, the Arts, Social Studies, etc. What will they miss if they have to cram four languages into the instructional day?

Bottom line, the person who first proposed this program is the chair of their board. He is an economist, not an educator, and came up with the idea because he thought it would make graduated more competitive in the job market. If it weren’t his pet project, I doubt it would have seen the light of day.

Want your kid to learn four languages? You can now register at this new Toronto schoolParents are now able to register their children at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s new … Read on cbc.​ca