Tag Archives: welsh medium education

On bribery

Before I had kids, I had all these marvellously clear cut ideas about how I would approach being a mother. One of them was that I would never resort to bribery – no indeed – my kids would all be dealt with in a reasonable and firm but fair manner, and if they understood the boundaries between right and wrong then bribery would never come into it, would it? Simples.

I didn’t do too badly to start with – in fact I can safely say I did not issue any kind of bribe at all for the first few weeks, or perhaps even months. And then reality kicked in, and I realised like most parents that sometimes, it’s about buying yourself five minutes peace to save your sanity and if that takes a small, er, incentive, (organic, wholesome and sugar free, natch) well so be it. And incentives are good, right? Not like bribes at all, in any way, shape or form. Phew.

So, yeah, Bribery, sorry incentivisation, does feature in our lives to some extent, though not any more or less than any other family I don’t think *stares defensively out from page*. But so far, mostly for the little things, and I’ve told myself that as long as I don’t end up with bribery being a daily feature of our lives it’ll all be fine.

CRASH crash clippity clop…that was the sound of me falling off my high horse and it galloping off into the sunset, leaving me flailing in a quagmire of incentivisation induced shame. Yep, this summer has seen a major bribery programme take place in our house, which has left me skint, and more familiar with Skylander figures than I ever thought possible.

The reason? Reading. Though my daughter chooses to read anything she can get her hands on, my biggest boy has been more ambivalent about reading, and particularly reading in Welsh. It’s clear to me that the ability to read and process language fluently is a crucial cornerstone in giving kids the best chance to make the most of their education in whichever language; and it seems like there is a distinct window of opportunity to make this happen, before lack of language skills begin to affect a child’s enjoyment of learning. And I do want my kids to enjoy learning, because if they don’t enjoy it, they won’t do it, and if they don’t do it now, that will affect their choices later in life. God, I sound like a pushy parent, and I’m not at all – I don’t care about where my kids come in class or whether they are talented in this that or the other – I just want to do the best I can by them, to equip them for the big wide world.

Hence the bribery. At the beginning of the holidays, I sat down with my biggest boy and had a chat about how important reading is, and then I told him that because it was such an important thing for an eight year old to read lots that I’d help to make it fun by (whisper it) buying him a Skylander figure for every Welsh book that he finished over the Summer holidays. I told him that he didn’t have to read anything if he didn’t want to, after all it’s his summer holiday, but also slyly pointed out that it currently takes him 5 weeks to save up for a Skylander on his £2 a week pocket money, so even reading just two books in that time would double his haul.

This has caused some debate in our house – the Husband is quite rightly wary of this being the thin end of the wedge, and I am a bit nervous about that too, though I did package it up very tightly as a time limited one time only deal. Also we have had to be reasonably discreet with my daughter, who reads all the time because she wants to, because I don’t want her to feel that her efforts are any less worthy of reward than those of her sibling. I’ve told her that the summer she is eight we will do a similar project just for her, in whatever she needs to practise for year 4, and I have no doubt she will hold me to it!

So – the results are in – I’m writing this towards the end of August and he has so far read nine books, all Henri Helynt/Horrid Henry sort of length, and discussed them with me afterwards. I am hopeful that at the very least this will have kept his Welsh front of mind through the summer break; I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that he will have given himself a really solid language base for the next year, and that this Summer’s investment will pay dividends in his confidence and fluency. What I am most pleased about is that although he started out picking up a book with the words ‘I’m going to read a chapter so I can work towards another Skylander’, I have noticed that recently he seems to be opening a book because he wants to read it, with the Skylander being a secondary factor.

Like everything else with this parenting lark though, I am flailing in the dark. I don’t know if this was a sensible strategy, or if it will prove to have made not much difference, or if indeed it is completely the wrong way to approach things. If you’ve any experience of this, or thoughts, please feel free to share them below or on @michelledavis – diolch/thank you!

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On Welsh Medium Education/Ar Addysg Cyfrwng Cymraeg

When I make choices for my children, it’s usually with the knowledge that such choices are reversible if need be. I chose to enrol my daughter in ballet at 4 as she was forever pirouetting around the house – it became clear fairly quickly that she enjoyed pirouetting at her own pace, for her own games, but was not remotely interested in learning how to pirouette properly. Fine – we stopped ballet, sold the tutu, and nobody’s any the worse off. (Well, unless you count the astronomical cost of a couple of terms lessons…)  Other choices I make, I am 100% confident in my reasons for making them, so they don’t need to be reversible. Like swimming – that’s one of my non-negotiables – they all have swimming lessons, whether they like it or not, because ultimately it’s something that could save their life.

But some choices aren’t clear cut, like swimming, or reversible, like spending stupid amounts of money on ballet kit (bitter? not me!). And the biggest one I have come up against so far is choosing Welsh-medium education. If you live outside Wales, that means exactly what it says on the tin – all lessons, activities and socialising happen through the medium of Welsh.

It’s not such an unusual choice as some of our friends over the bridge think; according to Wikipedia nearly a quarter of primary school children, and over a fifth of secondary school kids, attend Welsh medium education. Many of these children come from homes where Welsh is not the mother tongue, however the theory is that because they start hearing and communicating in Welsh from such a young age, they will grow up to be fully bilingual by the time they leave school.

It didn’t seem that tricky a choice at the time, to be honest. We have chosen to make our home here, so it seemed sensible to give our children the opportunity to communicate in whichever language they choose as they grow older. I did quite a lot of reading around the subject, all of which pointed to positive outcomes for children raised bilingually, particularly in terms of the ability to pick up other languages competently in later life. The local Welsh medium school had an excellent reputation and an inspection report to match. And last but not least, there is an emotional connection for me to Wales and the Welsh language – I remember as a child my lovely Grandad (from Maesteg) telling me sadly that the nobody really used the language any more – and I often think now, how happy he would be to know that Welsh can be heard again throughout Wales, and how proud he would be that his great-grandchildren are Welsh speakers.

I did have doubts and questions – Would I be able to help with homework? What if my child couldn’t cope? Would my child feel weird coming from a home where Welsh wasn’t the main language? I took every opportunity I could to talk to other parents, both English and Welsh speaking and on balance, felt reassured by their answers, so we enrolled our kids in Welsh education, and I started learning Welsh in earnest (you can read more about my trials and tribulations as a Welsh Learner here). And what seems like about 5 minutes later, my biggest boy is over half way through his time in primary school, my daughter is about to go into year 2 (that’s infant 3 in old money) and my baby is starting at the school’s new nursery unit in September.

There have been some lessons along the way. I started out trying to communicate with the class teachers in Welsh – I figured it was only fair if I was making the kids learn that they should see me trying too. Yeah, dropped that pretty quick after it once took ten minutes and more gesticulating than a bookie on race day to make myself understood on some banal matter, while a class of five year olds waited patiently to be led into class. I also went through a phase of only speaking Welsh to the kids for the first hour or so after school – but they were so tired from speaking it all day that they’d run home and hide in the shed rather than be subjected to yet more. And I also really, really tried to communicate in Welsh with other parents on the yard – but apart from the fact that it makes me feel like a muppet, in a typical Welsh conversation I miss 30-50% of what’s being said, which makes it hard to take part in any meaningful way, and besides, what if I missed some really JUICY gossip??

Aside from my comedy efforts, the kids have become pretty proficient, and when they have friends around, will happily socialise in whichever language is dominant in that particular situation. They’ll also compete with each other to help me with my Welsh homework, and are equally at home watching Cyw or Stwnsh as they are with Cbeebies and CBBC.

I am not sure however that they are fluent – listening to them, they both use a lot of English words in everyday speech. This doesn’t worry me so much with the younger ones – YET – but as I mentioned before, my eldest is over half way through primary school now and it worries me that his Welsh vocab still seems to have big gaps in it. These holes tend to be around everyday words, which although they are very common, might well not come up in a school setting – for instance not long ago he asked me the Welsh word for shower. So now I am in a massive panic and keep trying to randomly introduce words for other basic items that he may not have come across in school just so I can be sure he knows them. Gah. And although he’s been learning to read in Welsh for four years, and in English for just nine months, he is clearly much happier reading English than Welsh. Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the more a child reads, the better their vocabulary gets, so I’m walking a constant tightrope trying to encourage Welsh books over English books, while not trying to squash his slowly developing enjoyment of reading for its own sake.

The trouble is, I have no idea if this is normal for an eight year old or not. I should make it absolutely clear that I have no grumbles or worries about the quality of educational or pastoral care and support my kids receive at school. But should I be worried that his Welsh vocab is smaller than his English? I don’t know. Will this have implications for his being able to express himself properly in written and oral work when he gets to secondary school? I don’t know. He is very good at Maths – but will he be able to reach his potential once more complicated concepts are introduced which require more mastery of language to understand?  No – I don’t know the answer to that either. Am I just adding another layer of difficulty on to his school life that he could do without?  Possibly. All these questions, and more, are constantly swimming around my head.

We’re currently waiting for the new National Test results in literacy and numeracy. As there are tests in both English and Welsh, I hope they will give us a steer on whether he is holding his own in both languages or not. I really, really hope that he is. But if he’s not – what then?  Switching to English school, now or at secondary level, would be drastic for a child who doesn’t cope well with change and who is has only recently begun to grow into himself socially. It’s a nightmare to even begin to work out what the least worst scenario is here.

I would love to hear from any parents who have faced the same worries, and how it turned out for you – and I’d especially like to hear from folk who went though Welsh medium education themselves, and their thoughts on it now. Feel free to comment below, or tweet or mail me.

Diolch!