School in France

February 16, 2011

Are you curious about how we’re handling school while we’re in France? Today, I thought I’d write up a little report for you all about it. But first, let’s admire these pretty French school notebooks from Laughing Elephant. Aren’t they handsome? I love school supplies at any time of year and from any country. They make me want to write a book report. : )

french school notebook red elephant

Now to business. We have gone back and forth, back and forth on how to handle school for the kids while we’re here. But in the end found it was something that needed to be decided once we were actually here and could check out the schools and see how our kids were adjusting to the move.

First, we gathered advice from everyone we could. Blog readers, family members that had lived abroad, friends with experience in French schools. And boy oh boy, did we get a mix of pointers and precautions. Everyone seemed to have a different experience. No surprise really, the same thing can be said for school discussions in America.

But based on the advice we received and research we did, we came up with several scenarios.

1) We could use (the company that employs Ben Blair). They offer online courses that would continue the curriculum our kids had been learning in Colorado and keep them up to speed with their American counterparts. Ben Blair and I would work together to help them through their coursework and we would supplement their learning with a French tutor who would come to the house and specifically work on French immersion.

2) The younger kids could go right into the local schools, while the older kids used and worked on their French. (Middle school can be rough anyway — without being the new kids who don’t speak the language.) Then, next fall, when their French is better, the older kids could join the younger kids in the schools.

3) Everyone could go right into the local schools. (FYI: we live in a rural area and the nearest International School is about an hour and a half away — too far for us.)

France doesn’t do much in the way of FSL (French as a second language), but our landlords had recommended the local school that could best accommodate foreigners. They had contacted the school on our behalf and made email introductions. So when we arrived we immediately set up appointments to visit the school and learn more about it. The recommended school is a private Catholic school, but is very different from the typical Catholic schools in the States. There are no uniforms, no nuns, and it’s heavily subsidized by the government, so it’s not expensive. They do offer religious education for about an hour per week. Other than that, it functions very much like a public school. The campus has a building for each age group. Preschool is called Maternelle. Grade school is called Primaire. Middle school is called College. And high school is called Lycée.

Our kids have been gung ho to meet friends and learn French since we arrived, so they were very excited to check out the school and immediately wanted to enroll. We had a long, frank discussion with them about it. Our kids are excellent students and have always done very well in their American schools, but here, they weren’t going to know what hit them. The school days are longer. From what we hear, the curriculum is more intense. And most of all, they don’t speak French (yikes!).

We told them our priorities for schooling are different this year than they were in Denver or New York. When we consider what we hope the kids will get out of our time in France, the goals are: make friends and learn French. Beyond that, we told them we really don’t care how much they’re learning the rest of the curriculum — at least until their French is in order, which will be months and months. Homework won’t be a priority. Getting good grades won’t matter. If they’re making friends and learning French, that’s plenty for this year.

Yesterday, Ralph and Maude had their first day of College. They loved it! They came home beaming. They went on and on about the food (a great topic for another post) and how friendly the students were. Tomorrow, Betty, Oscar and Olive have their first day. I’m very nervous for them, but excited too. Each of their teachers speaks a little bit of English and in Olive’s class, we know one classmate is from Ireland so they’ll have English in common as well.

Today, we’re feeling great about our schooling decision. We know we may feel differently as the year progresses, but I like the comfort of having as an option if this doesn’t work out.

I’ll follow up with another schooling post next week to share some of the details and stories the kids bring home. Things that are the same and things that are different than American schools — for example, they don’t have school on Wednesdays. Yay!

Thanks for following along.

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{ 91 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Polly February 16, 2011 at 5:06 am

I like it. I taught for nine years, and not that you need my approval or anything, but your plan is well thought out and I totally agree. French and Friends are just as important as grammar if not more:).


2 Stephanie Smirnov February 16, 2011 at 5:13 am

I don’t have teaching credentials, only parenting. But it seems you’re doing a great thing. To be in France for a year and not give the kids the opportunity to truly immerse seems a shame — it’s great they get to experience French school, I’m sure I’d take the same path if it were my son.


3 Ashlea Walter February 16, 2011 at 5:21 am

Yahoo for immersion! Great choice. The kids will pick up French so quickly, it will just knock your socks off. Now how ’bout your French, dear? Any plans for immersion or a tutor of some kind? I love these *practical* posts. Keep on, keepin’ on.


4 'rachel February 16, 2011 at 5:26 am

The Blair Family = Amazing!! Love you from Texas!


5 Robyn February 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

Thank you for sharing your experiences. You have no idea how homesick I feel for France. I would love to have this opportunity for my kids (and–let’s face it–ME)


6 penny February 16, 2011 at 5:58 am

Great idea! For some Europeans it is weird to see the American Homeschool idea…I’m sure the students learn a lot if the material is good and the parents put a lot of work in it. But I still think that (only my opinion and I do not want to criticise anybody!) being in School with other kids has other merits. And I also think that your children will learn French much faster this way. And just think about the friends they’ll make and the storiess they have to tell. Ohhh, enjoy!


7 HollowSquirrel February 16, 2011 at 5:59 am

Good luck to the kiddos — they’ll do great! My husband spent his childhood in rural France and moved to the states in middle school. It will be an amazing experience. XOXO


8 katy February 16, 2011 at 6:04 am

Congrats on making a hard decision. You must thank your lucky stars for your wonderful landlords. They sound like great people. xo


9 diana February 16, 2011 at 6:08 am

I went to school in France as a young adult and loved it too, I think you are super to do this and having traveled a fair bit myself and lived in France a couple of times, I believe you chose a super spot for this year! I am hoping to do the same as I am a teacher and once my child is older, would love her to have a similar experience! I also speak French so that would help!
Gabrielle, Thanks for your openess and sharing your life with us! I am inspired every day reading your posts so keep that in mind today!
All the best (maybe you can do a post on how to begin a blog as I am thinking of doing one too)!!


10 Lynn February 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

Sounds like a fabulous plan! As a teacher, I am frequently stunned by foreign students who arrive at our local school not speaking a word of English, and within a remarkably short time, are conversing easily with their friends. A few years ago, a young 5th grader from Japan arrived one October day. I saw him off and on for a few months, and watched him make slow but steady progress. Then I went off to a different assignment and didn’t see him again until May. And there he was, in the middle of a group of laughing, cavorting eleven-year-olds, giving them all instructions for a game they were making up -yes, in English.


11 Renee February 16, 2011 at 6:27 am

How exciting to hear about this. I always wondered what it would be like to move with school age kids to a new country. Your children must be so well adjusted and smart to handle it – so cool to hear about all this. Are any of them homesick or going through an adjustment period? I know that gets into personal family details that you may not be willing to share….but you are making it look too easy! I think that a huge percentage of your readers are plotting moves now….me included! Good luck, it is great to hear that all is so well and fun to follow along. Olive’s room is adorable – those elephants!


12 Ayme February 16, 2011 at 6:32 am

Bravo for you! Educational decisions can be tough, and everyone else seems to have their opinion :) I’m sure your kids will do great.


13 Christina February 16, 2011 at 6:38 am

Thank you for answering all my questions. Can’t wait to hear more about everything.


14 Ashley February 16, 2011 at 6:38 am

Wow! I don’t really know you or your kids, but I find myself feeling anxious and excited for them too. I don’t know why…but I thought they could use a couple extra prayers today and this week as they make this adjustment. So, we’ll be thinking and praying for you and your kiddos! What a week! I can’t wait to hear about their stories and experiences. I really wish my family had done something like this when I was growing up. Can’t wait for the next post! Way to go Blairs!


15 Jenny February 16, 2011 at 6:42 am

Good luck kiddos!


16 alyson boehr February 16, 2011 at 6:43 am

I think the only way to truly understand any language is to be fully immersed in it…I took french in school for 8 years and I am supposed to be fluent as I have my grade 12 equivalency. I couldn’t carry on a conversation en francais to save my life. Its great to see that your kids are SO excited about this oppoortunity. I can’t wait to read more about your life across the pond:)


17 Lori February 16, 2011 at 6:46 am

Wow, what an amazing adventure. I hope the school year continues to go well.


18 Denise Laborde February 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

Ah, mercredi libéré ! It’s a good break from the long days.

The school day is longer here. 8h45 to 17h00 for my kids (in maternelle and primaire) and they don’t stay for before or after school care! My kids go to a Catholic school too and I think they are similar throughout France – no uniforms, no nuns – very different from my all-girl Catholic school experience in FLA. I love that they can come home for lunch too (they don’t often. I don’t think that is an option stateside.

I am happy that your kids are so excited to immerse themselves in the French culture. Crossing my fingers for a good “rentrée” for your little ones :)


19 Deborah February 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

I can’t wait to hear about the lunches! My son refuses to eat the food at his school, and I can’t say I blame him. America needs to step it up a few notches.
I live in PA and our school district has early dismissal every Wednesday after lunch. (For elementary school.) There aren’t any “in service” days because of it.


20 Sarah February 16, 2011 at 7:05 am

I tutored a family of Japanese school kids for almost 5 years when they came over to work (Here in the states.) It was hard for them, sometimes more than others, but it honestly didn’t take too long for them to learn enough to communicate fairly well. After a few months they could get across almost any point they wanted and after a year my main priority was helping them with their home work and not so much the language. (BTW, my husband speaks Japanese but I don’t.) I would suggest still getting a tutor for an hour or two a week. That way they can have someone to ask questions to (cultural, grammar, knows the area, etc.) It seems like your kids must be outgoing which will be their strongest point in learning and fitting in. How Fun!


21 Jenna {Jenna Sais Quois} February 16, 2011 at 7:15 am

Thanks so much for your Year In France posts! I am really enjoying every one of them. It’s so exciting to see what new adventures your family will have each day, and is giving me some ideas of my own about moving abroad for a while. It seems like the hardest part is just to DO it!


22 Katherine in Paris February 16, 2011 at 7:17 am

I think that it’s great that you are immersing your kids in French schools. Although it will be difficult at times, especially for the older kids, it is the best way for them to make friends and experience life in France. And they are lucky to have each other. I had the opportunity to put my French speaking son in a completely English speaking camp in the States. Within a month his French was gone and he was speaking English without an accent. Sponges they are! Oh and French school lunches are so wonderful compared to school lunches in the States. They have real sit down meals with silverware and cloth napkins and bread baskets.

I just recommend getting to know your teachers. Also, the French are very big on “adaptation”, which means letting your children take the time they need to adjust. It is common to let them stay for just half-days or a bit more at a time until they are ready for a full day.


23 Mrs. Cox February 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

Sounds like a great game plan :)


24 marilee pittman February 16, 2011 at 8:21 am

How very brave you are. wishing your children a wonderful experience, that will benefit them for ever!


25 Wendy February 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

What a rich experience you are providing for them! I think it’s a thoughtful plan. I think they are brave to go to school when they are just learning the language! Kudos!


26 juliagblair February 16, 2011 at 8:29 am

I love your “relax and enjoy” attitude. Really a marvelous way to learn and grow. Enjoy laughing together at the “faux pas!”
Beautiful, shared experiences that will bind you all forever. APPLAUSE!!!


27 Jen Tripp February 16, 2011 at 8:31 am

What brave munchkins you have! And you and your husband, too. Bravo!


28 Erin February 16, 2011 at 8:40 am

Hope they are loving their first days! I do have a practical question which is not related to schooling: I noticed Ralph is wearing braces, and as a mother who takes her son to the ortho every 6 weeks, I was wondering how you were handling this detail. Have you found an ortho in France, or will you just leave them on and tend to them when you return? Just curious!


29 kathryn c. February 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

Gabby, your kids are so well adjusted and easy going, they will do great! best of luck! kathryn c.


30 Barchbo February 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

I think this is so exciting! I love your plan and I love that you have options. It doesn’t hurt that the Blair kids ROCK and are so blessed to have supportive, loving parents at home. I look forward to hearing all about their school adventures (and I especially anticipate that school food post!)


31 Esther February 16, 2011 at 8:46 am

Your kids will learn a second language in a jiffy! I moved to the US when I was 9-years-old and learned English well enough to translate for my parents in THREE months. Immersion is the best way to learn another tongue. Good luck. I’m incredibly jealous.


32 courtneyb February 16, 2011 at 8:50 am

we lived in Florence, Italy for 2 years and my kids went not knowing any Italian and the nuns didn’t speak any English and my kids survived! But if the lunches in France are anything like what my kids had, buon apetito! so healthy and good. BTW, the reason I started following this fabulous blog is because I told my cousin we were planning to move to Paris in a couple years, your blog has been and will be a huge help! I can’t wait to get over there, I loved living in Europe.


33 Kristin February 16, 2011 at 8:54 am

Again, your timing is fantastic. I have a 9th grader, and there is no way that I would be able to have a laissez-faire attitude about grades when they go on his high school transcript which affects basically EVERYTHING in his future. Your kids are there at the perfect time in their schooling! Pat yourself on the back : )


34 the emily February 16, 2011 at 8:55 am

I was actually hoping for a schools post. I was just wondering the other day about what your schooling plans were. I can’t wait to hear more. This whole experience is completely foreign and so fascinating for me.


35 Hannah Stevenson @ MiniMe Paper Dolls February 16, 2011 at 9:12 am

Wow, what a gift you are giving them with your French and friends attitude.


36 Marine February 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

You’d be surprised, in few months i am sure your children will already be fluent!

Experience talking!


37 Sarah February 16, 2011 at 9:16 am

Have I mentioned how much I love the color yellow? I could buy so much yellow at Old Navy with $150!


38 Misty February 16, 2011 at 9:30 am

Gabby, I only found your blog last week and each day since I have been growing increasingly jealous of your year in Paris! Thank you for all the details. I am living vicariously through you and your family. All the best to the kids as they start school!


39 Cathi February 16, 2011 at 9:54 am

The fact that you’re children are excited and not concerned about going to a new school… let alone a new school where they don’t speak the language…says bunches about you and Ben Blair as parents!!!
When I worked in kindergarten we would get little ones who didn’t speak a work of English. Within a month or two they were fluent and were teaching English to there family at home. Children are amazing that way! Little sponges I tell you!
Do you or Ben Blair speak French? Did he serve his mission in France? My husband has been asking me (every single day ;D) to ask you about your new ward at church. How far is it and is it a branch or ward?
We too are enjoying your stories and thank you for sharing!!


40 Heather MK February 16, 2011 at 10:13 am

What an incredible experience for you and your children! I am so excited for them – your whole family is going to grow so much from this year abroad and it is great to read more about your hopes and expectations. :)


41 Elizabeth February 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

Yeay Blair kids! I’m nervous for them. But it sounds like us adults will be the nervous ones and the kiddos will jump in with both feet. Oui Oui!



42 carolyn k February 16, 2011 at 10:22 am

This is so awesome! Your kids are most certainly going to look back at this time as one of the very best of their lives, no doubt. They will pick the language up faster than you might expect. I grew up in Canada (in a very bilingual part) with English as my mother tongue. I remember that first day of entering a french immersion school when I was 5. It only took a couple of weeks (according to my mum) before French came to me as easy as English. Bottom line: The Blair kids are going to be GREAT!

Bonne chances!


43 nichshee February 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

I think you have the best approach: total immersion with only friends, fun and French in mind. I am SO looking forward to your post on the French school ‘cantine’ because I know you are going to be amazed by it (the four courses, the cheese course etc) but know, the French are so unimpressed with the standard of food in schools, those that who can will still collect their children and take them home for lunch… especially in maternelle .. but that is also about the noise factor because they start at 3 years old here.. though my 3-year old loves it! But he loves food! All food! (especially the cheese, even blue ; )


44 sara February 16, 2011 at 10:33 am

I realized that I was holding my breath throughout this entire post, wanting everything to be OK for your kids :) I love the immersion idea – I think this is going to be a wonderful experience for all of you and having K12 as a backup is the best of both worlds. Cheers to the whole family!


45 Ana February 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

It sounds like the perfect plan. We are also having dilemmas of where to enroll our daughter. I speak Spanish as a first language, my husband is from South Africa so he speaks English and we live in Brazil. We need a place where we can accommodate all those languages and needs. We are still looking, good thing we have time.


46 Shannon A February 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

What great thinking on this — I really appreciate your sharing the thought process and we’re in a similar spot ourselves with a move to Germany next year. For us, German schools, Department of Defense schools, or K12. After reading your post (and considering how important it is that we adjust our own expectations with regards to schooling and the 2 years we’ll be abroad), I think we’ll consider German schools more seriously. (and in France, as I recall, don’t they also have school on some Saturdays since they are off on Wednesdays? So unusual!)


47 Carina February 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I attended schools in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and have to say: they are excellent schools and you should have no qualms about sending your kids. They are more rigorous than American schools, but provide so many benefits and life lessons! And there is no better way to immerse them in a language.


48 becki February 16, 2011 at 10:58 am

Sounds scary and exciting! My favorites. I have always had wanderlust, and have lived abroad 4 times (as a child, in high school, in college, as a new mother). I am aching to make a big move after reading your post.


49 Meghan Beutler February 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

Fascinating… I so love all these informative posts you’re doing about your move to France. Thank you again.


50 Alea February 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

I was curious about the school thing – I’m surprised they’re going to a Catholic school – not that I’m questioning your judgement! I’ve always experienced Catholic’s and LDS’ as not being really keen on each other (from my Catholic point of view). Sounds like the schools are quite a bit different than Catholic schools in the states.

I’ve been curious too about how you’re dealing with church while you’re there, so I hope you’ll post about that sometime too.


51 Jules22 February 16, 2011 at 11:23 am

Hello! Awesome decision! we are anglophone at home and have always sent our kids to the french school in Quebec (when we were at home in Canada) and now while we are in Switzerland they are in the french school here as well. With each of our three kids, the first four months entering a francophone school was always hardest, and then they start to understand everything better, and by the end of the first year of school, they amaze us with their french!! Now here in Switzerland, we LOVE the Wednesdays off, and we totally feel that the day off mid week has helped us immensely with the transition to both a new country and school. The kids really love the break. They are also getting german classes in school twice a week and the speed at which they pick it up is awesome! Languages are so much easier when you’re younger!! There will be hard days, for sure, but it’s SO worth it!
p.s. love that you’re in this time zone now, and I get your posts earlier in the day! : )


52 Nick February 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

I’m sure your children will benefit enormously from being in school in France, its a great way to meet children of their own age and they will pick up french really quickly. If they get some extra tuition at home there will be no stopping them.
My daughters best friend is german and started school in the UK aged 10, year 5, within a couple of months her english was useable and within 6 months fluent. Prior to her arrival she spoke no english at all and had no extra tuition. Now her mum is worried that her english is better than her German.


53 Bekah Palmer February 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I applaud your family’s choice! We had a great experience with Japanese schools while we were in the country. Our daughter loved it! (She still talks about how great the lunches were!)


54 Heidi February 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm

That sounds like a great plan. I can’t wait to hear about the food! I heard there is no ‘kid food’ in France. I thought that was so cool. There is no ‘kid food’ in this house either! :)


55 pamela February 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm

i’m so glad you are sharing these details. i’ve always looked forward to your posts, but now more than ever.


56 bdaiss February 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I cannot wait to hear about the lunches.
Will you adopt me? Seriously. : )


57 Holly February 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm

What great parents you two are!


58 Jenny also February 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Wow! That’s impressive! Sounds like you’re the proud parents of some very secure middle-schoolers. Of course, they will still be impressive/great kids when the inventible bumps it the road come too. I love that you set the priorities simple and clear “friends and French” sounds like a pretty great combo. And a year (or at least a few months) to ignore grades and homework, what freedom!

Is there a Mormon temple/ward (not sure what you call it) around? Are you going to pull them out of the 1 hour religion class or just reinforce that it’s different strokes for different folks?

Do you have any babysitting for Baby June?


59 Monica February 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I love the design posts but these posts about practical life in France are my favorite. I can’t wait to hear more about the schools and how fast the kids are picking up the language. It’s like the missionary experience, total immersion is the best way to learn!

Will you still do a French tutor at home to help the language skills along?


60 macatrose February 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Bienvenue en France ! un petit bonjour d’Aix en Provence.
L’expérience école sera courte car c’est bientot les vacances ! bon courage à toute la troupe !


61 kiera February 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm

this is great! you must have a tight knit family with some wonderfully confident kids!


62 Kendra @ My Insanity February 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I loved my semester (8th grade) in a Spanish speaking school in the Dominican Republic. The semester before, my mom had home-schooled us (since we didn’t know a lot of Spanish), and I ended up feeling very isolated, and almost trapped in the home. I was much happier when I was able to make friends and use my newly developing language skills! I hope your childrens’ French classmates are as welcoming as my Dominican ones were. If so, they will learn the language in no time! I’m excited to follow their adventures and hear how they like it.


63 Lissa February 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I’m twitching with the thrills of these French posts!! Once we, your loyal bloggy readers, are all adjusted to living in France with you and the family we can resume regular programming :)) Thanks for all the sharing.


64 Lucie B. February 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Such a great and fair approach!!! I love it.


65 Kelly February 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Love it. You’re all very brave, happy to hear the updates and how you decided to do schooling, sounds perfect. Oh, and the house is really a bonus- what a perfect match for a lovely family.


66 kathleen February 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm

You may have covered this in another post, so apologies in advance. As a second language teacher, I have worked with many exchange students and recent immigrants. The patterns of assimilation – excitement, exhaustion, loathing & acceptance – occur in them all but at highly variable rates. If your kids are exhausted after a few weeks, don’t feel bad to give them a break and lots of extra protein. Their brains are working hard! I hope you and your children have a wonderful school experience!


67 christina February 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I do have teaching credentials and am certified to teach English as a Second Language and have been the teacher of students who couldn’t even ask to go to the bathroom (well maybe make sure they can do that esp. the little ones ;) and ya know somehow they just figure it out and sitting through lessons and trying to grasp instruction is a great way to learn a language. As long as you are totally connected and they can ‘opt out’ at any time it sounds very fun for them! You might still want to hire a tutor though to go through the lessons with them at night in English because that would be very helpful in the their progress with the language because they will go in the next day with more of a frame of reference for what is being talked about all day and children really like to succeed. It was always so disheartening for my ESOL students to do poorly on everything especially when they had those skill in their own language.


68 Sarah @ Knit York City February 16, 2011 at 3:26 pm

That sounds so wonderful! I wish I could have spent some time doing school in France! What fun!


69 Barbara February 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I have a friend for Guatemala who just recently moved to the states with her 7 year old daughter. She took the same approach as you did with your kids, learn English over getting great grades.

Due to the nightmare it was trying to get them visas, she choose to home school her for a few months so she could learn English (they were going back and forth from US to Guatemala every few weeks!) until everything settled. In just a few months, she picked up English and can now speak it incredibly well. She just recently started at a regular school and is loving it! She’s getting great grades and making tons of friends.

I think the approach you took is wonderful. I’m sure they’ll have a great time in France!


70 Ransacked Goods February 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm

That’s so cool of your kids to be ready and willing to just jump in! I wish we could all be like that as adults. Way to go raising kids with that enthusiasm.


71 Carina February 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I went to local schools both times we lived in Austria. There is no question that I learned German far more quickly and that it was an experience that I still draw from. I’m excited for your kids because there really is no experience that compares.

(I also learned to write my 7s with the middle squiggly line, which earned me the ire of American teachers on my return!)


72 Khali February 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Your France updates are fast becoming my favourite posts to read. I have my fingers crossed that Betty, Oscar and Olive enjoy their new school as much as Ralph and Maude.


73 February 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Your children will do great. You will see how quick they are to pick up the language. You will be amazed. While we speak German here in the home, when we went to Switzerland it was as if they had to learn a whole new language with Swiss German. Our children did great. Within two weeks they were speaking like they had lived in Switzerland their whole lives. I doubt they will miss much academically. The schools in Europe are far better that ours here in the states. I don’t know about this catholic school, but one of the things my children loved about Switzerland was yes the food which was not the junk served in American schools, but gourmet menus. They also liked that the school theory was the developement of the whole child. So not only did they learn the basics, but made incredible art work, sang in dfferent languages, went swimming and hiking, along with religion one time a week. They were so happy!


74 Sarah February 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm

how exciting! good luck, they are so brave:)


75 Missy W February 16, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Ooh! I get giddy when you post about your life in France. So very exciting. Sounds like your kids are already thriving. You continue to inspire me.


76 Sarah February 17, 2011 at 1:39 am

We are living abroad this year as well and “threw” our 5-yr-old into a regular kindergarten here. We had the same goals as you – learn Hebrew & make friends – and after 5 months here, he has done both. As a bonus, now that he has picked up the language, he is also reading & writing Hebrew and learning the content of the lessons (math, science, history, etc.). From your description, it seems like my son & your kids share the same enthusiasm for adventure, which, I think, was key to his smooth transition. I’m sure your kids will thrive as well!


77 Amanda Gann February 17, 2011 at 8:36 am

Hi there, Gabriel –
I was wondering how your kids were taking it so far. If any of them are homesick or are they just psyched for the new experience? I guess Ben is able to work from there?
Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve had this idea of living abroad for a short time with my family, when the kids are a little older, say junior high, and perhaps doing the home school thing. My husband is an analyst, but has a very strong skill set of web development and I think we could leave the country for a bit somewhere in the future.
Anyway, what you’re doing is all very inspirational to me and I hope your family has a wonderful year. Are you planning on doing a lot of travel while you are over there or do you think you’ll stay put?


78 Amanda Gann February 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I totally spelled your name wrong and am super embarrassed. Please forgive me.


79 Damaris @Kitchen Corners February 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I think you made the best decision. Immersion is tough but so valuable.


80 Petit Elefant February 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Gabby, you realize I’m watching this whole experience with bated breath. You’re my test pilot for this. We’re heading to Poland for a month in May {thanks for the luggage recommendation by the way} to see how I feel about moving for a longer period of time. My only hesitation has been the education. My 11 year old has threatened to flee the family if we immerse her in public school in Warsaw. So, I’m watching you.


81 Freida February 18, 2011 at 12:56 am

Way to go! Immersion is the best way to actually feel at home in a new country with a different culture and new friends…You are such an inspiration for a lot of us readers (well, for me, that’s for sure…) You make every day seem less difficult, I only have 2 kids to cope with, lol!
I have also experienced the change of country and language when I was 12 and my parents put us in a French semi public school (we didn’t know a word of French!) and my first year was such a great experience…so intense; I still have friends from my first class , more than 20, um, 25 years ago…


82 Jennifer February 18, 2011 at 3:26 am

What a great approach you guys have! My older son is in maternelle in Paris and has had an excellent experience. I hope your kids continue to enjoy themselves. I bet the local kids are thrilled to have them as classmates–so exciting to be hosting the anglophones and showing them the ropes!

All best,



83 Katherine M. February 18, 2011 at 5:50 am

Formidable! I echo all the sentiments above. Wonderful to hear how open minded your kids are – obviously they picked it up from their parents! That being said, once the novelty wears off – there will come a point when homesickness, just general fed-up ness with “why do they do things this way?!??” will set in. Don’t give up – don’t get disheartened – whatever frustrations or setbacks come your way – the end result is 100x worth it.

Happy to offer any advice on the French school system and esp. in decoding the teacher relationship and playground culture. I’m married to a Frenchman altho’ we live in Australia at the moment. We have a 9 and a 6 yr old who go to the French lycee here. As the foreigner in the family, I’ve had to learn to decode all the school stuff myself.

I’m a huge fan of the French system – academically very rigorous (music to my Chinese tiger mom ears!). There are some quirks to the system which this article I came across years ago, summarises quite well.

BTW – the preciseness of the school supplies list mentioned in this article is true – in past years I’ve had to buy new 15 cm (rather than re-using the 30cm from the previous year) rulers, glue sticks of 21g size (yes – 21g!), and pencil sharpeners “preferably Maped brand”. Did all the moms follow the list? You betcha. As we were living in Singapore then, some moms even brought the supplies back from France!! (I did that the following year but only because they have such nice quality school stationery in France).


84 julie February 18, 2011 at 10:58 am

I love that the kids are excited about it! You should be proud to be raising such little adventurers!


85 Dina February 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I am so thrilled to hear your children will be attending the local school-I think they will get SO much out their year there, it will be an amazing experience. My brother-in-law has 5 children and they all attend a Catholic private school outside of Paris and have found it to be a great fit for their family. And I think your children will see how open and intrigued French kids are about the American culture-they probably already have so much in common (music, pop culture, some sayings, etc.). I wish I were there to be your tutor-I am a French teacher currently on pause to raise our first baby! My friend just opened a language school, but in Montpellier…One idea: In some French schools, there are “American Assisants” who are employed by the French Government through a program called the American Assistanship, I believe. They are typically college-age or a little older and they are contracted to teach English at local schools for the school-year…I wonder if you could check with your local schools to see if they have any (and could work as a private tutor after hours)?


86 Jen B February 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I moved to France as a child & went to a lovely Catholic School. It was wonderful (although I don’t think I was so lucky in the food department – the few times that I did eat at school it was terrible!). Within 2 months I was a fluent French speaker (though I still struggle with French grammar as an adult) – and blended right in with the other children. Honestly, the most helpful thing was to have a teacher that spoke hardly any English. It forced me to be brave & try to speak. Initially I communicated with friends through pantomime & Franglish. I think this opportunity is wonderful for your family & must admit that I am a bit jealous!


87 Bobbi March 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm

We moved our family to Germany when our children were 7, 5, and 2 years old. After a year in the American school (Dept. of Defense), we moved to a little town and enrolled the oldest two in the Grundschule (elementary school) and the youngest in pre-school (Kindergarten is what it is called in Germany). Within months they were keeping up, and by the time we moved home, they were using German at home more than English. Their accents were perfect and their grades good. They made friends that we are still in touch with today (27 years later). It was a fabulous experience for all of us. Like you, we told them not to stress about the grades, but to just learn the language, make friends and have a great time. They did, and it was a life-changing decision–not without struggle and frustration, but filled with learning and expansion and fun. I am thrilled for you and your family to have this opportunity.


88 Myrna Jacobs May 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I just love your blog and have read a lot of it. The photos are fun and pretty… actually great. I’m envious. I wish I could have taken my children to France when they were young. And now I wish I could go myself and live for a few months at least. I still may do it.

Anyway, I love following your family and I love the ads and links you have too. My daughter in law knits darling children’s clothes and I think she should have an ad here! I’ll tell her about your site.


89 Scott Holm June 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hi Gabrielle, I work for K12 and just came across your blog. This was such a great read – it sounds like you and your family are enjoying the adventures of life! I did a study abroad program in college (Germany) and I love the fact that your kids get to experience another culture at such a young age. Good luck with everything – we’re rooting for you!


90 Lara March 13, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Hi Gabrielle. I am an American mom looking to move to France for a year with my two children (who are in kindergarten and 1st grade). I would like to enroll them in a French public school. I haven’t decided yet where we will live, but it will most likely be in a rural-ish area as well. Did you have any issues with signing your children up for school not being a French citizen (or does someone in your family have E.U. citizenship?)? Anyhow, that’s my big question. I think my kids are young enough that they would pick up the language, but I am more concerned about the legalities and enrollment requirements than anything else.


91 Design Mom March 15, 2015 at 12:41 pm

We had year-long visitor visas that we would renew, an we didn’t have any issue registering for school with those.


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