Starting in the Gaelcholáiste
Choosing Irish-medium education will have many long-term benefits for your child – he or she will gain communication skills in two languages, have more employment opportunities, find it easier to learn other languages and see lots of other social benefits too.
Whether you have Irish or not, there are lots of practical things you can do to help your child to prepare for the move to post-primary school.
Understand that it’s a milestone
Moving from primary to post-primary school is a big change for your child and for you as a parent, especially if they have not gone to an Irish-medium primary school. There are two big transitions for them to navigate – personal and social changes, and academic changes. Don’t worry, there is plenty of support available, and schools have lots of experience in helping each intake of new students (and their parents) through this process every year.
Try to address the practicalities first: help your child to plan ahead for changes to their journey to school, talk to them about their new subjects, new teachers, lockers and school building. Your child will have lots of opportunities to expand their circle of friends and meet young people from other primary schools in your area. At first this can cause them some anxiety, especially if there is no one from their primary school going on to the same post-primary school. Schools are very aware of this at the beginning of the year and activities are usually organised to ensure that students meet new friends and get to know more people. Many schools also have a peer or leader scheme, which gives older students a special responsibility to care for first-year students. These older students are available to answer practical questions, reduce any concerns and watch out for the students in general.
Show your interest
The most important thing you can do to help your child is show that you have a positive attitude and a real interest in their education and learning. Encourage them to participate in various events and try out new sports, activities or clubs. At home, try to make sure from the start that there is a space for them to do homework, and that they set aside enough time each day to get it done. You should also check their homework diary regularly and sign it when necessary. This is one of the main ways teachers have to communicate with parents.
Don’t worry too much about the change of language
Many students who didn’t get their primary education through Irish go on to attend Irish-medium post-primary schools. These students are absolutely welcomed, and various supports are provided to make sure that they settle into the school quickly. Initially, they can find it quite tiring – paying close attention to the new language of instruction and communication, searching for the right words to express themselves, dealing with homework and socialising with their peers in the new language. But teachers have lots of tricks and resources that they use to make sure that their students are happy, that they can participate in class, and that they understand each other. Your child will adjust quickly and their anxiety will disappear. The immersion education model means that they will have plenty of Irish within a surprisingly short time.
One of the most practical things you can do to prepare your child for a Gaelcholáiste is to encourage them to read, and to really enjoy reading. This will help them to improve their Irish a lot – including their ability to write and their fluency and accuracy in the language – and this will also improve their confidence. There are lots of Irish books available for teenagers, and if the habit of reading in Irish is encouraged before they start post-primary school it will be of great benefit to them.
Here are some suggestions for books suitable for young teenagers as a starting point, your child might be interested in reading one or two before the end of the summer: Amach by Alan Titley , Cúpla by Ógie Ó Céilleachair, Daideo by Áine Ní Ghlinn, Dhá Chorp by Cora Harrison, Hiúdaí Beag by Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair, Hóng by Anna Heussaff, Katfish agus Scéalta eile by Ógie Ó Céilleachair, LabhairAmach.com by Áine Uí Fhoghlú, Nóinín by Máire Zepf, Sárú by Anna Heussaff, Tóraíocht Taisce by Mícheál Ó Ruairc, and Trumptaí Dumptaí agus An Falla Mór by Ré Ó Laighléis. There are plenty more available from An Siopa Leabhar, Cló Iar Chonnacht, Leabhar Breac, Údar.ie and other booksellers.
Another practical thing that you can help your child with at the start of the year is getting organised: talk to them about how to follow the timetable, pack their bag the night before, label their school uniform, sportswear, copybooks, books and other school equipment, how to manage their time and make sure to be on time, how to lay out their room and how to manage their screen time.
It is natural to be concerned about your child starting post-primary school for the first time, especially when he or she is learning through a language that you may not be fluent in yourself. The majority of families choosing Irish-medium education do not have Irish as their home language. This will not prevent you from supporting your child. Show them that you are interested in the new subjects they’re studying, that you are positive about the language and the experience, and that you are interested in improving your own Irish. Remember that the principal, the teachers and all the staff of the school have this experience every year with new students, and they’re very capable and confident in how they manage it. Your child will be really well looked-after and every effort will be made to help him or her settle in very quickly. Raise any concerns you might have with their class teacher, year head or school principal, or contact Gaeloideachas on 01 8535195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go n-éirí go geal libh!
Irish language resources
If your Irish is rusty or you lack confidence to speak it, there are lots of resources to help you.
Language resources aimed at parents are available on our IrishforParents.ie website. The site has vocabulary, videos and many other useful resources for independent learning.
If you want to use more Irish at home, take a look at Déan Comhrá, a practical booklet of phrases and vocabulary. The booklet is divided into themes: school subjects, family, around the house, etc. There are also useful phrases if you want to write a note in Irish to a teacher or to the principal.
Focloir.ie is very useful for finding the Irish version of words or phrases, listening to pronunciation and getting more information about grammar. They also have an app that you could install on your phone. Tearma.ie is also very helpful, especially for homework at post-primary level and looking up vocabulary to do with music, science or business.