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Here we are, our 2 year old bilingual toddler is ready to start what we call in Italy “scuola materna”. It’s what I believe to be a combination of preschool, kindergarten and maybe a bit of nursery too. While many of our friends told us to just pick the school closest to home, we didn’t feel quite right about making this decision so simply.  It took us a while to pick which one we felt would be the best fit.

Yes, distance would be a factor and easy access to parking too but they weren’t my main concerns. As long as it was within 10 minutes from our house and allowed for me to run errands easily before getting to work, the location would be just fine. 

As an external “expert” I’m called into many of the schools we visited, sometimes yearly and sometimes as a one time project for the children to experience a “beloved” mother tongue English speaker. So I felt quite fortunate to have already collaborated with many of the teachers and knew exactly what I would be looking for when it came to deciding which was the best fit for our son. 

As  a bilingual, bossy but shy little toddler, I was most concerned with how he would be treated in a class of children who did not have the luxury of a second language spoken at home. Many teachers don’t know english as a second language and could have a hard time understanding him if he can’t find the right word in their language. As a child who grew up between 2 countries, it’s also important to me that his teachers and his school help him continue to appreciate his ability to speak English while learning to adequately communicate in Italian with his peers. I remember as a child how I felt ashamed to be the “american” in class when I lived here and the “italian” when I lived there. Everyone else was just normal. I’d like for his teachers to work with me to avoid this discomfort for him as much as possible.

So here we were, visiting school after school in open day month. Each one of them offered pretty much the same experience for the children. Two teachers in a class of about 28 kids, a routine that starts with circle time maybe an activity together and the rest of the time doing freeplay either in the classroom or outside. Some schools have routines surrounding lunch and library others focus on responsibility differently. We visited private schools, comunali and statali and didn’t find much difference. 

Private and comunali are both paid options while startali schools are free. You’d think there would be a difference in the quality of education the children received based on this “hierarchy” but that isn’t the case. 

What makes the difference is the teacher. I spoke to the teachers in each of the schools about my concern for his shyness, bilingual needs and also that I didn’t wish to have him participate in religion class. The answers ranged from “ Well, while he’s here we’re going to need him to speak Italian” to “I’m not worried, we’ll find a way to understand him. I can speak English with him if he needs me to” but the teacher that has made the best impression was at a tiny little statale called La Coccinella in a small fraction near Coriano. 

The teacher (who will not be named) said “We have many bilingual children, one of our teachers speaks 5 languages and we understand how important it is to highlight each child’s language and culture. We often ask parents of bilingual children to share nursery rhymes, childrens poems or songs and we choose one from a different language every day. We believe that supporting the differences in our children helps them see how similar they are.” 

This was also the only school that didn’t guilt trip me about wanting to remove him from religion class. Apparently, in those schools he would be the “forbidden” only one. Obviously! I mean, if you’re pressuring parents into having their child attend even when they have decided not to, of course he’d be the only one. Ugh! 

The teacher at La Coccinella just simply told me how many children don’t currently attend and that there is no need to worry as they are not removed from the class as if they were different. The classes are regularly divided throughout the day for all kinds of activities and this group is treated no differently than any regular activities. No one is polarized for not sharing this experience. There was no problem whatsoever. 

As far as his shyness, I was hoping to find a school with a smaller group of children, but all of the schools we visited had just about the same number of students in their classes. She reassured me by reiterating that the classes are large but are divided into smaller groups several times per day for different activities. They come together for moments like circle time,  freeplay play and lunch but other than that he will probably be interacting with around 10 children at a time in his first year. Most importantly, like all of the other schools, they are not in a rush to insert him into a full day. They start out with just an hour and add to it little by little following the child’s lead. This will allow him to take whatever time he needs to adjust to such a large group. 

I can go on about La Coccinella and talk about their program for “pregrafismo” and how the children are prepared for elementary school from the first year and what kind of responsibilities the children learn during each year of materna but I’d really have too much to share. I was very impressed by the quality of attention given to the children as individuals who will learn to be a community. 

Now here’s the problem, La Coccinella is a statale school that is not in the comune where we reside. This means that we are put last on the list behind all of the incoming children who live in Coriano. It’s only about 5 minutes from our house and we absolutely loved the school. 

The list of accepted students will come out on March 11. Tomorrow! 

We’ve been waiting since January for this day to come. 

And tomorrow we will have reached yet another milestone for our Noah.