There are three types of Gaelic pre-school groups normally available. They are: parent and child groups, playgroups and nurseries.
Parent and Child
A parent and child group is one where parents and their children meet for a chat and to play in Gaelic. These groups are for children aged 0-5 and they give people – who intend to send, or are considering sending, their children to Gaelic-medium Education – a chance to meet. These sessions include games and songs and children and parents have the opportunity to learn Gaelic or speak in Gaelic in a friendly and supportive setting.
In some areas these groups are referred to as playgroups. No matter what the name, the main characteristic which marks these groups as Parent and Child groups is that the parents attend the group along with their children and remain with them. Although these groups do not form part of the state education system, they do offer children and parents the first step in learning Gaelic or joining the Gaelic education system – the first step, and a very important one. In the school ear 2012-13, there were over 1000 children attending pre-school voluntary groups for 0-3 years.
Parents and carers can leave their children at a playgroup under the care of Gaelic-speaking staff where their children will hear and learn Gaelic. These pre-school groups are aimed at children aged 2-3, before they enrol at nursery. The children will play, sing, create and engage in all sorts of other fun activities in the playgroup.
When a child is aged 3-5 years old they can enrol at a Gaelic nursery before attending school. The majority of nurseries are run by Local Authorities, and they are more often than not associated with a primary school which offers Gaelic Medium Education. The children’s education is based on the Curriculum for Excellence and the teaching is done entirely through the medium of Gaelic. The education a child receives in a Gaelic nursery ensures that they will have a reasonable level of fluency in the language before going on to primary school.
Beginning the path to bilingualism
The different levels of Gaelic pre-school education give children a wonderful opportunity to both play and learn in Gaelic. If they already have Gaelic, then they will be able to refine their language skills in addition to all the other things they will learn. If they don’t have Gaelic, children will learn a new language as they progress through the various stages of their pre-school education. This will be the beginning of the path to full bilingualism.
Resources and Support
There are a range of useful resources available from publishers such as Acair Ltd and organisations such as the Gaelic Books Council, and parents and children can access a lot of useful materials and information from websites such as Gaelic4Parents and Learn Gaelic. You can now also find Gaelic Bookbug sessions in certain areas, where parents and children can take part in various fun Gaelic activities such as singing and storytelling. Comann nam Pàrant also run a Parental Advisory Scheme with staff who provide information on Gaelic Medium Education and the opportunities there are.