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Linguistic tools of the mind

An edinburgh nursery has been doing outstanding work with three to five-year-olds - in French.

Grassmarket Nursery, which was threatened with closure in 2007, has pioneered its own French-language programme and is being held up as an example of good practice for others on the HMIE website.

Grassmarket became the first nursery in Edinburgh to offer French in 1999, when it struck up a partnership with Richard Tallaron from Le Francais en Ecosse to offer the children Fun with French sessions every week. It has also done pioneering work using Vygotsky's theories of giving children more "tools of the mind" to allow them access to linguistic skills, cultural concepts and insights that lead to higher thinking skills.

The staff, led by headteacher Barbara Robertson, were convinced that bilingual immersion would benefit the infants before "developmental or psychological barriers" to acquiring a second or third language set in.

More recently, they have embraced the opportunity which A Curriculum for Excellence offered to encourage the full development of a child's capabilities.

Marie Tacca, a native French primarynursery teacher employed by Le Franccais en Ecosse, works in the nursery school for five half-days a week, with the normal cohort of children and the teaching and nursery nurse staff. Each session, she takes eight children at a time in a group for a more intensive session. A member of staff will support the group but also only speak in French.

The first five minutes is a routine of "Bonjour" and getting to know a puppet called Tidou, who only speaks French. This is followed by songs, finger rhymes and games - all in French.

The children, they report, are accepting the dual-language environment, interacting happily with the French teacher and "enthusiastic and engaged in the focused groups". A spokeswoman for Edinburgh council said they had "no co-ordinated plan for pursuing the language programme across the city".

www.hmie.gov.ukView Establishment.aspx?id=10223type=1.

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