With September upon us once more and families getting ready for the new academic year, it is time again to consider signing up your children to after-school activities. The big question is: should English enter into the pack?
When should my child start learning English?
Given that Spanish children start learning English from the age of 3 it is hardly surprising that some parents prefer to find alternative extra-curricular activities to language classes, especially when their children are less than 8 years old. However in Madrid there is an ever increasing offer of after-school clubs which are run in English, usually by native speakers, where children can do dance, art, craft, drama or go to playgroups, with special focus on language learning through fun.
So the question is what’s the best English-speaking afterschool activity for your child? From what age should they start?. Should they choose activities run at school or sign up to classes at a different centre? What does your child need in order to build a base of fluency in English? Here are a few thoughts which I hope will help.
It is never too young to expose your child to English. Under the age of 3 children often don’t realize they are being spoken to in a different language. There are several playgroups dotted around Madrid where parents meet and do activities in English with their children, such as Sticky Fingers in Calle Ibiza twice-weekly baby & toddler group or English Escapes preschool from 15 months onwards or sinews.es weekly playgroups from 18 months to 6 yrs: sinews.es, or Kids Fun Ideas English playgroups on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting this September and October respectively in Chamartin.
Age 4-8 yrs
There is a wide range of English activities for children aged 4+. From specially-designed English classes for young learners at language academies such as The Green Monkey or International Institute to fun-based learning through dance, music, craft, drama, magic etc, and the choice is yours.
It is important to ensure that the teachers are native speakers. The benefits of building up a relationship with a foreign teacher and the cultural awareness gained by spending time with this teacher cannot be under-estimated. Children are naturally curious and are immediately aware that the teacher is not Spanish like themselves. Children are more motivated to communicate in English if they know that the teacher won’t understand them otherwise and I can assure you that even from the age of 4 a youngster can tell whether you are a foreigner or not!
Finally, another option is to have informal private classes at home, where your children are more relaxed and at ease because you are close by. McAleer Solutions, English Escape and madridteacher.com have all got excellent reputations for providing teachers.
Age 8-12 yrs
From 8 years onwards parents often consider sending their children to camps abroad, or participating in a foreign exchange program either through school or through a language academy. The experience of being immersed in an English-speaking environment is unforgettable, even if your children find themselves tongue-tied at the beginning. Spending time abroad doesn’t only open doors to new experiences; it also helps your children see that English isn’t just a subject at school to be studied and to pass exams in, thereby aiding them to have a more “positive” attitude towards the language.
I think it is a good idea to talk to your child’s English teacher at school when discussing whether to sign them up to afterschool activities. That way you can have a clear idea of your child’s requirements and identify areas that need attention.
If, at the end of the day, you prefer to have the freedom to choose when you want your child to do English or prefer to give your child a little boost from time to time then there are sporadic activities available on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
English Escapes on Calle Alcala offer “drop-in” sessions where children can enjoy themselves learning English through play. At the weekends, stand-alone events such as “Mini Mundo” or drop-in sessions (run by Kids Fun Ideas), and “Book Parties” (run by Little Fingers First) help give your children a push from time to time, with these events often being a platform to share British or American cultural traditions such as Halloween or Thanskgiving with Spanish children.
Given the variety of extra-curricular English activities available in Madrid, I hope you see them as the great opportunity that they are. Sometimes the only wish is that there were more hours in the day to be able to do them all!
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