More About Schools

April 6, 2011

For those of you who are curious about our school experience in France, I’ve packed this post with a whole bunch of fun facts.

trampoline silhouette

- School hours are longer here. For middle school, the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 5:00. For elementary school and preschool, the day starts at 8:45 and ends at 4:30. But, there are lots of breaks built in and generous lunch hours.

- It’s a four day school week. On Wednesdays, there is no elementary or preschool. And the middle school has a half day — they finish up at noon.

- Lunches are long — a full two hour break. Three courses are served and fresh bread is restocked, as it comes from the oven. According to our kids, their classmates finish all the food on their plates, have really good table manners and eat everything (except bread) with a knife and fork.

- Ralph said he picked up a spoon to eat mashed potatoes and his friends gave him an odd stare. He asked what was up and they said spoons are for dessert only.

trampoline silhouette

- The kids are doing more and more of their school work. Math and Science usually translate pretty well. Gym, music and art work too. History and French are the hardest. Of course, during English class, my kids feel like geniuses. : )

- During gym, kids wear track suits. Some of the sports they’ve covered are badminton, gymnastics, handball, high jump and table tennis. Oscar and Olive’s classes have had swimming once a week. (And all the boys wear speedos. In fact, standard American swim trunks are not allowed in the pool. Oscar is not a big fan of the speedos.)

- The school has been wonderful to make accommodations for my kids while they learn the language. Things like, during music class, there was a video about Mozert and they turned on the English subtitles.

- Olive, Maude and Ralph each have an Irish student in their class who has kindly acted as a translator and explained assignments. So helpful!

trampoline silhouette

- When it was the French teacher’s birthday, she brought in chocolate cake that she’d made herself and shared it with the class. Ralph said it was the best he’d ever had.

- Even on really cold or rainy days, the school children spend time outside.

- According to our kids, their classmates dress quite formally and wear lots of layers — undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, jacket/hoodie and coat. Scarves are worn as every day accessories by both boys and girls. Winter hats are apparently not worn by anyone but the little kids.

- There’s no stigma in wearing the same outfit for several days in a row.

trampoline silhouette

- Overall, the kids are doing great. The days are definitely long and the this-is-new-and-exciting-honeymoon-period is definitely over. But when they’re discouraged, we try to come up with fun things to look forward to — like a favorite treat at the end of the day, or an upcoming trip.

- Pre-schooler Betty is the most eager to go to school. She never seems bothered that people speak French instead of English and loves to learn the games and songs at school. She tries speaking new French words all the time.

- Oscar asks to stay home on many days, but he did the same thing in America. He’s a homebody. He gets frustrated that people don’t speak English but he’s really proud of himself when he learns something new in French.

- Olive, who makes friends quickly wherever we’ve lived, loves school. The school held a two-day, overnight field trip to the ocean for Olive’s grade last week. I couldn’t believe she wanted to go, but she begged us to let her. We said yes, but the morning of the trip she woke up with pink eye and had to stay home. Can you believe how brave she is that she wanted to go?

trampoline silhouette

- Maude is thriving. She wants to be doing really good at school and is eager to learn French. I’d say she practices French the most, it’s one of her go-to spare time activities. She’s made friendship bracelets for lots of fellow students and has received some in return as well. Maude has the longest list of people she wants to invite to the Easter Egg hunt.

- Ralph loves studying the differences between America and here — clothes, behavior, manners, etc. He is making lots of friends, but seems the most worn out by school. In America, he hated to miss a day of school, but here, he’s looking for excuses to stay home. I can’t wait till he’s more comfortable in French. I think it will change everything for him.

Sometimes I worry about them — what they’re doing seems harder to me than anything I’ve ever done. But mostly, I can see that every one is still thriving and happy we made this move.

What are your thoughts on the subject? If you moved abroad, do you think you’d put your kids in local schools?

P.S. — Do you like the photos? We took them on the trampoline. The weather is so fantastic, we’re spending as much of the day outside as we can.

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{ 144 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly Irene April 6, 2011 at 6:48 am

I love hearing about this from your/their point of view! I spent a year in France just after graduating from high school, and I opted to repeat the final year in the French high school for the experience. It’s funny to look back 10 years later and see some of the striking differences I noticed (and some I did not!) that are still going on. This is such an invaluable experience for your kids, and even the hard parts will be so worth it for them!


2 Dia April 6, 2011 at 6:56 am

I went to Denmark for a year in high school and remember being just exhausted for the first six months or so- having to function in another language, not having any of my creature comforts, etc, just wore me out! Looking back, though, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything! And some of the friends I so struggled to make are still important in my life, 12 years (yikes!) later.


3 Kirby W. April 6, 2011 at 6:57 am

I love the 3 course/2 hour lunch! That sounds wonderful!


4 TN April 6, 2011 at 7:11 am

Sounds great Gabrielle! I knew from the start it was best for them to go to a French School to get the full experience. I’m glad you opted for it! This way they will learn a lot and have stories to tell to their friends back home. I know it is difficult for them now but just you wait and see they will learn French so fast it will amaze you!

Us old brains who ask a lot of questions takes us a lot longer to fully get French. A child’s brain is ready to soak in the knowledge with no questions asked. First they will be able to understand more and more then slowly be able to speak. It’s like when your children first learn English. It will be fun! Make sure you document their learning…it will be interesting to see what happens. The younger ones will get it quicker I think. But who knows. The kids should be getting ready for April vacations soon (well at least in Paris they are…you might be a few weeks behind us). What do you plan to do? Visit some of France?

How are you and your husbands classes going?

Spring is upon us…this sun just makes me happy to be here (btw it’s already 85 degrees in Florida…So I am very happy to have a REAL spring and not sweat all day ;-)

We were going to vacation up your way in August but decided to go south a bit to Bordeaux area. Maybe next summer!

Keep us updated on everything up there!


5 christine @ leapfroglane April 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

We’re considering doing a six month to a year stint in S. Korea at some point (our son’s birth country). We worked under the assumption that we would home school him while over there, but now I’m completely reconsidering this. We have the advantage of knowing *some* Korean already, and as we discovered, the kids over there learn “conversational” English very young. Hmmm… definitely something to think about!

And I *adore* these photos. They make me want to find a trampoline and put my kid on it! Then I would make them into notecards for him. Or me.


6 Annette Arndt April 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

A very close friend of mine grew up in South Korea as a child of missionaries. She and her siblings attended school there, but for high school the children came back to Canada.
She is now the main translator for most western governments when communicating with Korea ( South and DPRK) from presidents Clinton, Bush and Prime Ministers Jean Cretien, Paul Martin, Steven Harper, etc. She also formed and runs a charity for the children that are starving in North Korea called First Steps Canada.
Her children have grown up with a wonderful knowledge of the world and are appreciative of the things, opportunities and rights that they have. They are kind and polite young men.
Based on this I think that it would be a great experience for your child and I wish you all the best in this exciting endeavor!


7 Cari April 6, 2011 at 7:15 am

I love the photos. I’m glad you explained how you pulled it off, so I can go try. You know those profile silhouettes that are so popular? Why not make a black and white like this? Wouldn’t it make a perfect “thank you” or “thinking of you” card?
How are the French lessons coming for you and your husband? I imagine a new language is hard for everyone. Your kids sound like they are doing great!


8 Krystle April 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

Those are some long school hours! I would probably miss my kids to much, then again, long school hours on some days might not be so bad! lol. I love learning about different cultures and countries and I think that it says a lot about values and customes when the school-aged children there are eating with forks and knives and don’t pick on kids about what they’re wearing! I totally would’ve taken a 2 hr lunch break as opposed to our measley 45 min. one! My homework would’ve been much neater ;-P


9 Paula April 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

I spent my sophomore year of HS abroad and I remember being miserable the first 3 months. I begged my mom to send me home. After about 3 months, however, something shifted, I settled in and absolutely had the time of my life. I didn’t want to leave when the year was up. I did go to a public school; road the bus every day. I think it is the best way to get the full experience. Wouldn’t do it any other way. I did not have to contend with language barriers as we were in England, but certainly cultural differences. Your children are so blessed to have this opportunity. I hope to give it to my children one day.


10 Liliana April 6, 2011 at 7:22 am

Two hour lunches, breaks throughout the day, a break in the middle of the week, trips to lovely places. This policy looks like someone really thought about what is right for children, and is taking pains to prepare them for life.
School in France doesn’t sound like an afterthought, or free babysitting service. We in the US could learn a thing or two (or three!)

If I can ease your worries about your children going to school in a foreign country, I would like to. My family spent two years in Germany when I was twelve. We moved to the US when I was fourteen. I had to learn the languages on the spot.

I can’t say it was easy, and I know I was miserable until I learned the languages, but the experience has made me an open-minded, resilient person, always willing to look at life out of the box. I have no regrets and remember those years fondly.

Best of luck!


11 Lori April 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

First of all, I love the photos! When I saw the first one, I assumed you’d borrowed it from a photographer, or a magazine. It wasn’t until I scrolled down I realized they were all your kids! Beautiful.
The school experience sounds amazing–as in such a unique opportunity. It totally makes sense that the honeymoon phase is wearing off. Do they ever second guess or ask to switch to instead? However difficult some days may be, they will look back on it as one of the best years of their lives, guaranteed. How many kids get to grow up saying, “Well, in our French school….” June may end up feeling slighted for missing out. :)


12 Morgan April 6, 2011 at 7:31 am

I love the photos, and the onbservations about the French school system. It reminds me so much of the year I spent as an aupair in Switzerland. The school system was very similar and I remember noticing so may of the same things – the long days, the speedos, the wearing clothes for multiple days, scarves on everybody!

Learning French was hard for me, and I had studied it for a few years in school beforehand. I understood a lot but found speaking quite hard. After a few months, everything just seemed to click. Once you have heard the same word or expression in multiple contexts, it’s like your brain just finally gets it! It’s a wonderful feeling and I am sure your kids will have it soon being so immersed in the language! I think you are doing a wonderful thing by enrolling them in the local school. It’s truly the opportunity of a lifetime!


13 Sarah April 6, 2011 at 7:32 am

I was an exchange student in France while I was in high school, and I can remember being exhausted every day for the first six weeks. Then, I can remember the day where I understood more than I didn’t understand! It was a wonderful moment for me. I’m so glad you are all getting to experience this together.


14 Julie April 6, 2011 at 7:36 am

I loved reading about your children’s school. We have not lived abroad, but do travel quite frequently abroad with our girls. When we do, we always try to learn about the cultures and people we are visiting. What better way than to enroll in a local school. Your children will have such wonderful experiences. I wish them a speedy adjustment and happy school days ahead.


15 Ivy April 6, 2011 at 7:38 am

We put our two young girls in the local maternelle while we lived in Bordeaux and it was the best decision we made. Both were fluent in french in 8 months or so. They made what I think will be life long friends, as did I with the parents.


16 Peggy April 6, 2011 at 7:48 am

I think in your case a local school makes totally sense so thekids get the most out of it and as you can see everybody is actually doing really good. it is a challenge, that is what you wanted and I am very sure…
latest when your year is over, you will be back home… they will be so proud about everything!!!


17 Ayme April 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

I loved reading about this. We homeschool here, but would definitely consider a local school when we travel abroad someday. You can’t avoid the immersion learning experience that way.


18 Maria Ortiz-Cintron April 6, 2011 at 7:59 am

Thanks for sharing this post. I enjoy hearing all about your year abroad adventure. It sounds like your kids are doing great! A little frustration here and there is normal, to be expected, in fact. However, I feel that this frustration is only temporary, a growing pain of sorts. I think Oscar will push through just fine. Your kids sound like an amazing bunch. How adventurous is Olive! Good for her!

This experience sounds totally amazing! And if I had the chance to move abroad, I would definitely put my kids in local schools. To me, it’s another adventure all its own, another world of experiences, challenges, and memories all its own. What a precious gift you have given your kids in doing this!


19 christy April 6, 2011 at 8:01 am

Wow, I have to admit I’m sort of exhausted just reading about this. (I am pregnant though, with two little ones at home – so that could explain it to…) But man, what you guys are doing is so freaking awesome AND such hard work. I’m so impressed with each of your kiddos! Thank you so much for sharing this with us – I’d love to see progress reports occasionally – I hope they all feel more confident soon! And lucky little June – she just gets to soak it all up. I’d also LOVE to hear how you and Ben Blair are getting along with your French studies, etc. :)


20 Rebecca April 6, 2011 at 8:04 am

I think your children are very brave. We have moved twice in two years (in the states from MI to NY to TX) and those first few weeks of school can be difficult enough just when you are new. But for your children to deal with the language barrier and the cultural differences, they should feel very proud of themselves. As difficult as it may be at times, I would think that this could only be an experience they will be better off because of.

And I love the visuals I have in my head of these fashionable French students in track suits for gym, speedos for swimming and all hanging out in their hoodies and scarves. So fantastic!


21 sarah April 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

i love the photos. i was so sure that you had staged them as you did your Christmas look with the angels until i ready the bottom of the post. how did you get such a great, clean shot while the kids were in motion? we always seem to have a blur somewhere in our pictures with baby boy moving so much.


22 Sally April 6, 2011 at 8:21 am

I remember that feeling of just being tired all of the time and my head hurting as I tried to learn a new language. I was an exchange student in Germany for my junior year and the first 3 months were exhausting. Then one day, and I still remember this day vividly, I didn’t feel tired and I realized I was thinking in German and not English. It will come. The best thing you could do for your kids I think, is encourage the socializing with their classmates outside of school and let them watch some French tv. My host mom ‘assigned’ me tv time of watching Sesame Street in German. I would also try to talk in French at home. I was lucky, in that I had no choice, but you could have French only dinners a couple times a week to encourage the brain to start thinking in French. Once that happens it really is less exhausting. My husband and I are forever trying to come up with a way to live overseas and we would not blink an eye to sending our kids to a local school. I’m loving having the chance to live through your experience while we still try to make ours work.


23 Meagan April 6, 2011 at 8:26 am

Kids are super adaptable and I bet being in local schools in France will end up being a life experience they’ll all be glad not to have missed. It’s absolutely the best way to learn the language and culture, and while it is certainly taxing, it’s probably balanced somewhat by the popularity points of being the foriegn kid? If Ralph gets frustrated, just remind him that he has the most grown up brain and so it will take him a little longer to learn to speak the language naturally… but I’ll bet he’s learning it faster than you and your husband!


24 Nichol H April 6, 2011 at 8:32 am

I love how much your kids have embraced the culture….it surely helps when they are immersed in it. My sister Jenn lives in the Netherlands and is trying to get us to move over there for 3 years. We are thinking about it. If we do, I would definitely put my youngest in the local schools and maybe my middle schooler too. This period of time is tough, but they will learn so much faster by being immersed. They are doing awesome!


25 Stephanie Smirnov April 6, 2011 at 8:38 am

I would definitely do what you’re doing, were I in your shoes. I’d love my son to have this kind of experience. And like other commenters above, I love the structure of the school day — I would gladly trade a 2:45 pm dismissal time if it gave my son a 4-day week and a more leisurely lunch break. Am laughing at the speedo thing, such a European thing — and Russian, which is unfortunate (my husband and I are still having the “honey I beg you not the wear the speedo” conversation every summer.)


26 Megan April 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

Your kids are so great! So brave and funny and cool…you should be as proud of yourself as you are of them!


27 wend April 6, 2011 at 8:46 am

Thanks for sharing all the details! It really is fascinating! This would be such a challenge and a soul stretching experience.


28 Jenny April 6, 2011 at 8:53 am

The photos are great! Thanks for continuing to share your experiences in France. It’s so fun to see and hear about life for the Blair Family abroad.


29 Mom in Mendon April 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

I LOVE the photos. I had studied the pictures of the two girls, so graceful and feminine and beautiful, and then I switched immediately to Betty. It made me laugh!! Love you all.

Nice candid post about all the adjustments. Yes, school in another language is a harder thing than most of us were asked to do.


30 Kathy Weier April 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

Your pictures are stunning! I think my favorite is the one of the girl in red- reminds me of a delicate ballerina (I hope she dances- if not she has natural grace)! They are all so beautiful and fun.

Do you or your husband speak French or are you learning with your kids? I was never very good at languages personally (I sometimes wonder if I have even mastered English!) so it seems like a Herculean task to try to move to a foreign country- but I would imagine immersing yourself in the language is the best way to do it!

I’m so excited to hear more about your easter egg hunt. Will you be doing real eggs (dyed ones) or artificial?


31 jen smith April 6, 2011 at 9:16 am

i think the best way to get fully immersed inthe culture is to jump right in. i went to argentina last summer and met an 18 year old norwegian exchange student. he came to argentina without knowing any spanish. he started school and within two months was almost fluent in spanish. when i met him he had been there almost a year and the argentinian girl i was with said that she thought he was from argentina, he spoke the language so well.


32 marta April 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

French school sounds a lot like Portuguese school – state or private, doesn’t matter. American (and British) children seem to have shorter hours but very few breaks and very short lunch hours with lousy – sorry! – food. We also get three courses (soup, fish or meat with rice/potatoes/pasta, salad or cooked veggies, fruit/dessert and only water to drink, imagine that! ) And children are supposed to use fork and knife since they’re 4 or 5!

But around here children do change clothes everyday (at the very least undies, socks, T-shirt…) . Seems like the French are not so fond of showering as the southern europeans are… ;)

I’ve never been to school abroad (only University) and my children haven’t either, but if we did move abroad for a year or three I DEFINITELY would want them to go to the local school (but I would homeschool if my own country had a homeschooling acceptance/community ).

Going to school in a different country is the best way to pick up the alien culture – and that’s the whole point of the abroad experience, isn’t it? I think your stand on this matter is quite impressive and sensible. I’m sure they’ll all look fondly on their year in France experience!

Marta from Lisbon, Portugal


33 Sarah @ Knit York City April 6, 2011 at 9:28 am

This is amazing. Your kids are so brave and clever! I would be afraid to make friends even if they spoke English. I am so excited for them. It sounds like such a wonderful opportunity. I feel like I’m just as proud of them as you are and I don’t even know them!


34 melanie April 6, 2011 at 9:28 am

My husband lived abroad several times growing up since his dad was a professor and was in charge of various study-abroads over the years. They lived in France and Austria mostly. He had a slight advantage in the languages since his parents spoke French to him when he was little. His mom is from Switzerland, so he was exposed to German as well, but really didn’t know it well before going to Austria. His parents still sent he and his siblings to the local schools in whatever country they were in and had no regrets. Learning to write a foreign language really solidified it for those in his family who did learn. One stint in Austria when he was about 13, he really didn’t understand the language so brought knitting (knitting!?? haha!) to class to do when was bored. He always laughs about it now about what he must have looked like to the other kids – they must have thought it was normal for American kids to sit and knit!

I would absolutely put my kids in the schools if we lived abroad. What better way to really learn about the people, the language, and the culture?


35 Nike April 6, 2011 at 9:30 am

I´m absolutely shure, that it was the right decision, to let your children go to a local school. Now they have the possibilitiy the get to know the “real” life in France. As for the adjustment: When I moved to Spain, I knew very little Spanish (next to nothing) but I the people I shared the appartement with, my collegues, the clients… there was no way out of just trying to speak and somehow everything came together. (Pro tip: watch French movies with English subtitles. A lot. Works like magic.)


36 Jennelle April 6, 2011 at 9:30 am

The pictures of the kids jumping are so cool! I’ve been looking forward to hearing more about the school experience in France. Minus the long days I WISH I had a chance to attend a school that had 3 course meals for lunch!

Oh, and we are definitely sending our kids to Dutch public schools once we arrive in the Netherlands.


37 Jenni April 6, 2011 at 9:39 am

Before I read this post I would have said, “No, I wouldn’t enroll my kids in a local school if we ever moved abroad.” But now? Now I want to move just so that we CAN. It sounds awesome. A million times better than the schools in my area.


38 Lori C. April 6, 2011 at 9:47 am

I am living vicariously through your experience right now. We considered a move to America Samoa a few years ago and our older children objected quite strongly…maybe they would feel differently about France. I think you are there at the perfect time in your children’s lives. When they are older, they will most likely be very attached to their friends and extracurricular activities and something like this might be more difficult. Enjoy every minute!


39 Stacy April 6, 2011 at 9:47 am

It is interesting how change affects us in different ways. People say children are resilient and that may be true, but how important for them that they have a loving family to encourage, support, and even snuggle on those hard days. I am loving being able to read about your experiences.


40 Joanna April 6, 2011 at 9:49 am

I love reading about your adventures in France. The schools, church, traveling with the lot–all so fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing.


41 Stephanie April 6, 2011 at 9:53 am

Thanks for sharing, it was really informative and interesting too! Just to add some encouragement, my husband moved with his family from Texas to Spain when he was 9 year old (he has 2 younger siblings) they moved with a 2 year plan in mind and his parents put them in public school and he never regrets it. He speaks spanish fluently and enjoyed really taking in the spanish culture through the school system. Like many have said before and I experienced myself in my semester abroad, we all go through a moment of homesickness at the beginning but eventually you get through that and you hardly ever regret the abroad experience.


42 Denise Laborde April 6, 2011 at 10:11 am

I love this post. Your kids’ observations are pretty right on with how school works for us in Toulouse.

I can understand that somedays school may be exhausting for some of your kids. When I was learning French I was pooped by the end of the day. Thinking or translating everything into another language is so tiring. Your kids are such troopers!

We are moving stateside this summer (to Washington DC after almost 8 yrs in France!) for my husband’s work and our plan is to put the kids in an international school with a French and English curriculum. We re doing this because we will most likely return to France in a few years. I think if we were staying long-term in the Sates, we’d put them in an all-English curriculum school.



43 Stephanie April 6, 2011 at 10:27 am

Yes, I’m always amazed at how many layers French parents dress their kids in, even in summer!


44 Mary April 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

Although they may not think it now, this time and experience is one of the most exceptional gifts you will ever give your children. I was lucky enough to grow up overseas and though I went to many schools (7 elementary, 2 jr highs, 1 HS), I would not trade it for all the money in the world (even if I did miss fractions:). We traveled extensively, believe or not, camping–all over Europe and the UK. We met people around the campfire; we played games when we couldn’t always translate each others words. I learned other cultures by being there, other languages because I needed to in order to communicate, and I learned that I could do more than I thought I could. I wish I could do it all over again.


45 Ana April 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

Gabrielle, this is the best experience you could ever offer to your kids. This is full immersion in a different culture, nothing replaces that! For them to be able to see the world at such a young age, to get out of the U.S. bubble, to see that there ARE differences and that it IS OK to be different: what a gift!! They will come back home changed, enriched, and more tolerant and open to other cultures. I love reading your posts about your life in France. It looks like this was the right decision for you and your family. I wish I could do that, too!


46 Marta April 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

This is great! every move is difficult, but once you settle down is time to learn…not just what they teach in school, but learn about a new culture! even us (the adults) need to learn…( I being living in the U.S for 8 years now and I still learning things… mostly the ones I don’t suppose to do or say! yikes! what a difference on our cultures… but don’t you just love that?!
what you are doing for your kids is great! it is hard but great! can wait to do the same with my family!


47 P.B. Lecron at A French Education April 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

I’ve concluded after having raised two kids in France for their entire scolarity, that on the long haul the French school system tires the kids out…longer hours during the day “necessitates” a mid-week break on Wednesdays, a day on which the kids typically wear themselves out with extra-curricular activities. And too, it’s even more difficult for the kids to establish a a good working rhythm with two week vacations every six weeks! I think that shorter daily hours with less vacation days during the school year would be better– more regular!


48 Susan April 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Oh to have gone to school in France…le sigh. ;)


49 Christy April 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm

There is a little girl in my 1st grade class who moved here from France last year. (I was her kindergarten teacher too). She literally became fluent in English in less than a month! She also has the BEST lunches, I wish she would pack one for me too. I used to think it was a little funny she wore the same outfit several days in a row, but now I am just used to it. Her clothes are so adorable, I don’t mind seeing them day after day. One day last year she came into class wearing a Gap hoodie, jeans and converse all stars and it was like a new girl came to class!


50 Sarah April 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

When I lived in France, I found that I was more tired than I was in the US, simply because my whole day was happening in a different language–I had to be actively engaged constantly in order to understand what was happening. In your native language you can passively listen and still understand what’s happening around you or being said to you. In a second language, it takes much more energy to just have a simple conversation, let alone learn a language and a concept (history, math, grammar, what have you) simultaneously. So, it makes sense that your kids would be a little tired out by it. Constant mental translation is exhausting. :)
Another thing I noticed was that I didn’t feel like myself a lot of the time, because I just didn’t have the language capacity to speak in French the way I do in English. So it was really strange trying to make friends, all the while thinking that they weren’t really getting to know the real me. (It’s hard to be witty or snarky in a second language when you don’t have an extensive vocabulary or know the idioms…)
I also found that when I did spend time with English-speakers (I went teaching with the Sister missionaries once a week), I would talk almost non-stop, because I was finally with someone who could appreciate all the funny stories I had accumulated during the week, but didn’t have the capacity to tell effectively in French.
I’m sure it will probably get a little more challenging before it gets better, but it will be so worth it. By the time school lets out, your kids will really appreciate their ‘vacances’ and will have more friends to keep in touch with throughout the summer. Once ‘la rentrée’ rolls around, they will likely have made more progress than they expected if they are spending time with French friends during summer break.
I would also be interested to hear how your private French lessons are going, if you’ve found a tutor yet.


51 sara April 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Yes, love the pictures – I could tell immediately that they were on the new trampoline!

I found this post fascinating. The clothes the kids wear – or don’t, the school schedule, the formality, playing outside even when its raining. I love it. It sounds like a healthier, more robust school experience than here in the States…


52 Haydee April 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

What a great overview. It all sounds so adventurous through and through. And yes, I think I would put my kids in public school. Seems the way to get the most out of the French experience. The memories your kids are forging now will be with them forever. They’ll be able to understand and explain experiences with all they come in contact with. Which in turn will make them great humans:)


53 Pamela April 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

What an interesting read. Thanks forposting how your kids are doing individually. I have three little ones. The eldest is going to school this fall. I’m anxious to see how they each embrace school, peers, etc.

Definitely interesting about no stigma for wearing the same outfit several days in a row; I’d love that. I usually get comfortable wearing something favorite and like to change an accessory or two. Sounds fun.


54 laurie - magpie ethel April 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm

This is a wonderful experience for your kids. We moved about every three years when I was growing up. It was hard, but kids adjust and I have wonderful memories. We lived in South Africa (in the late 70s) and I went to an all girls boarding school. Super strange experience, but I look fondly back upon it. Tea in the a.m. and afternoon. Early curfew. Exams in big rooms that were chilly and we brought sleeping bags to sit in. Getting hit with rulers, ping pong paddles and such for missed spelling words. Uniforms. Polishing our shoes daily. They will remember this experience for a long time.


55 Nicole O April 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I don’t know why exactly, but this made me misty-eyed. Their bravery I guess. Brave little kiddos. And I love your narrative as their mom. I’m sure it’s really hard, and wonderful, and priceless.


56 London Lisa April 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

What an amazing opportunity for your children. School sounds like such an amazing opportunity and while I am sure that they have their struggles, they will most certainly learn to cherish this experience. And, a two hour lunch?! Wow, I don’t even get that and I work full time. I’m sure their lunches are delicious as well. I just picture children sitting at tables, legs crossed with cloth napkins and San Pelligrino! (Not sure if that’s what it’s like in real life, but it’s fun to imagine!)


57 Maria April 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm


I would definitely have my kids attend local schools if we ever moved abroad. I think it’s important to get the full experience and learn about different cultures and languages. I’m hoping we get an opportunity like your family. I’d move my family to Espana.

Sending good vibes to you and your family in France.



58 Kaila Lifferth April 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm

this is so inspiring. I’m bound and determined to take my family abroad and enroll them in school. Even though you and Ben are older than I am and I feel like a dork saying this, I’m so proud of you! Seriously, sign me up!


59 Whitney Smith Cripe April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Gabrielle- Bonjour et bravo!!! Vos enfants sont charmants – and this is a spectacular journal entry to look back on for them (and for you) later when they are rattling off the French like they were born there. This is a super journey – love it and love your charming and clever (and never self-aggrandizing blog) – Merci for sharing.


60 Lissa April 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I loved the post Gabby…and enjoyed all the responses just as much. I think it’s an interesting observation that being in an environment which requires processing and communicating in your non-native language requires you to be “on” all the time. So of course the mind is tired because nothing can be done passively. And it’s funny to think that being sarcastic/teasing/witty/impulsive in speech is so much harder because it requires so much forethought. It would surely cut down on “mean girl” behavior. Thanks for sharing…again.


61 Natalia April 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm

My parents moved me twice, both times without speaking a word from the country we moved to, both times, I went to a local school. It’s hard at first but it is the best experience you can give to your children. I moved from Poland to France when I was three. My parents dropped me off at a school and I was on my own. At the time, I picked up the language in no time. The second time, we moved from France to the US , I was 16. I went to a local school with only a few English words. It took a little longer to learn but again, there is no other experience that could have taught me to speak three languages, learn about three different cultures and make friends across the world. I plan on doing the same with my kids. Being aware and curious about the world is a wonderful thing.


62 Meghan April 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

LOVE the photos.

Your kids are super brave, and for whatever it’s worth, a complete stranger is super proud of them for being amazing.


63 joslyn April 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I love this post friend!!! It makes me want to go to school in France…and I would definitely enroll my kiddos in local school if we ever had the opportunity to move overseas for some period.

In fact, just for the heck of it, I’m enrolling Audrey in a French immersion summer camp for 6 weeks this summer. she’s pretty excited!



64 Keia April 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for continuing to share your experiences abroad, I really enjoy reading about them. I do hope all works out for the kids with their schooling and studies. If one kid wants to come home we can do a switch! You can take my 2.5 year old and I’ll will kindly take one of yours. My Ethan is a handful these days.

I love the 3 course lunch and long hours provided for lunch. Oh, and Ralph getting the weird eye when using a spoon…I could totally see that. Also, I love the pictures!

Continue to enjoy and be safe.


65 Lucie B. April 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm

What you are giving your children is PRICELESS. The experiences they have in France will be something they take with them for the rest of their lives. Your children seem incredibly adaptable and these struggles will help shape them into even stronger people. I so wish I could give my son what your family has been brave enough to take on! Not only to teach him about another culture — but THE FOOD! MUST BE GLORIOUS!!


66 Sherri April 6, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Lived abroad as a kid and know that most people attended the American School near where my parents lived. I think immersing the kids in the culture – the schools, etc. is best, though. It sounds like they’re having a fantastic experience. You did the right thing – definitely.


67 Aurelie April 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I guess what blows my mind is the fact that a teenager would use a SPOON to eat mashed potato…


68 Megan April 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm

we did exactly what you are doing with our four kids last year except we were in south america…we traveled throughout south america and home-based in buenos aires, argentina. we even went to antarctica! that was a blast!!
i have lots of “lessons learned” and would be happy to share. we have been back stateside almost 1 year (i can NOT believe it) and it is sooooo much fun to hear what the kids remember, what they miss, all kinds of interesting topics.
our children at the time were: 16, 11, 9 & 9.
you can read about our adventure on our blog!!
i am so envious of your time. I look forward to a day when we can do it again.
we need to get our 11th grader settled for college first,though!
keep on writing!!


69 r8chel April 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm

That’s so interesting to read about the French school system! It sounds like a place I’d like to live — well, minus the speedos. :)


70 Elise April 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I was in the Peace Corps and the first few months of not knowing the native language well was very tiring. I was exhausted all the time. Then once I picked up more words everything became much easier. They will get there! They are so brave and we are enjoying the stories!


71 Nicole April 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I think one of the most frustrating things about learning a language through immersion in a foreign country is how erratic progress can be. You feel like you should be getting a little bit better every day and you certainly do improve over time. But I think the reality (at least for me) is that you have a series of big breakthroughs. It can be really frustrating to be able to chat to everyone one day and then feel like you can’t say the simplest things the next day. My advice is to have faith and hang in there on the bad days. And really celebrate the breakthroughs.


72 Suzy April 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I love the pictures! They remind me of some modern dance troupe’s photography from my NYC days:) I think that your kids are so brave and positive… this can only be a great experience for their upbringing:) I love hearing about the French manners and style of dress:)


73 Miranda April 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I love this post and especially the little details you’ve added in about the fashions, manners and what they eat for lunch. What an incredible experience your family is having! The photos are very fun too.


74 Whitney Baker April 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

You could set up a whole other blog about your kids’ experiences in the schools there, I LOVE reading about it!


75 heidi April 6, 2011 at 5:21 pm

with such a long school day….do they have homework when they get home, too?


76 norah April 6, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Love the post and photos! Our neighbor just gave us their 15′ diameter trampoline and I would love to recreate these shots with my 4 kids….details! Were you lying oj your back oj the trampoline on standing on the ground?


77 nicole @ deliajude April 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm

i enjoy hearing about the day to day joys of living abroad. thank you.


78 Kathleen April 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

What exceptional children you have!


79 Nancy April 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I have to pitch in with my experience.

We have lived overseas in Japan for the past three years and are starting to prepare to move back to the US. We are at the end of our time, while you are at the beginning. Enrolling your child in a foreign school is so worthwhile!

We enrolled our preschool-age children in Japanese preschool soon after our arrival. My 4 year old sounds like your Maude–she thrived from the first day (and even told me on the third day that she didn’t need me to walk into the school with her). My 3 year old had a harder time adjusting and had some behavior problems. It took her a good 5 months before she stopped crying when I dropped her off.

The experience has been fantastic for my children. They have loved it, they have been exposed to a different culture and religion (Buddhism). They rarely speak English to each other. And neither of them want to leave Japan. To them, Japan is home and America is a foreign concept.

We have had a fantastic experience in Japan, due mostly to the wonderful school and friends we’ve made there.

I don’t think you or your children will ever regret this experience. Good luck!


80 Cindi April 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I think that putting your children in the local schools was a wonderful gift. They are challenging themselves and will be so proud of their accomplishments once your experience is over.


81 Jess (Where My Heart Is) April 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Fun photos Gabrielle.

When I was 10 we moved to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia for a year, being an embassy city there were schools from so many nationalities. My parents let us choose which school we wanted to go to. My sister chose the French school and was fluent by the end of the year. I chose the American school as having immigrated to Australia from the US when I was a baby I had always wanted to go to an American school.
I think you enrich the kids experience by exposing them to something new. I’m sure all of your kids will thank you so much for giving them this opportunity when they get older. It really will enrich their lives.


82 Jen Lewis April 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm

The only thing that surprised me about this post was the part about the teacher bringing in the cake she made. I have a niece and nephew in second grade and they cannot bring any “home-made” treats into class. They have to bring “store-bought” treats with a label for many different reasons. I think it’s a sad world, but it made me happy to hear about that yummy “home-made” chocolate cake.


83 mrs boo radley April 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm

This was SO fun to read!


84 Michelle April 6, 2011 at 8:17 pm

It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job helping your kids through this transition. I enjoy reading about it. Your kids sound so brave, your whole family actually sounds very brave! If I was to move there I think I would need to consider each of my kids personalities and assess their needs and then make a decision of what type of education would be best for them. I know that what is right for one kid isn’t necessarily right for another kid. I would want to be flexible and sensitive enough to keeping evaluating their needs and adjustment, just like your doing. Again, I think your doing a wonderful job being aware of how your kids are adjusting.


85 Sue April 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Oh wow; like many of the other commenters, I also lived abroad as a kid! This post brings back so many memories. I lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, during 5th and 6th grades, and we went to a private school with a special immersion program. I couldn’t help but gulp a few times when you mentioned the kids not wanting to go to school–that definitely happened to me, it was *hard* at times–but I mostly look back at that 2-year period as one of the most formative experiences in my life. My family still references events as “before Switzerland” and “after Switzerland.” I absolutely LOVED learning french and discovered I loved languages in general; and was absolutely captivated by the glamour and elegance of Europeans. It was a bittersweet experience in some ways, but who can say that life wouldn’t have been bittersweet back home in Boston? I will continue reading about your experience there with great interest. My own dreams of taking my family abroad (spouse and four kids) have been gently let go–two of my children have had developmental delays and specifically speech issues; learning another language at this time would unnecessarily complicate things. I’m okay with that, though, and I can come here and vicariously experience it through you!


86 Stephanie Grey April 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Dear Design Mom, Thank you for sharing all of this about your children and how you are all adapting to life abroad. I love reading the stories. What a great experience for your children, although you’re doing this together, they all have their individual opportunities through school to get out there and learn and grow and find out who they really are. There’s really no substitute for this type of education! I’m sure its difficult for all of you at times, but this experience will surely strengthen your family ties! – Stephanie Grey


87 Lina April 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I think the experiences you are providing your children are so valuable! It may sound trite but taking children abroad at a young age provides them an amazing perspective of the world we live in!

I am the daughter of Italian immigrants. While growing up I was proud of my culture but it was sometimes difficult. I often wished to be just like everyone else. Even the pronunciation of my name by my teachers needed correcting! I would have been in heaven if my name was “Jane Smith”. I learned English by watching Sesame Street; only Italian was spoken in my home. However, I am over the moon as an adult that I am bi-lingual/dual citizen and my Italian heritage is precious to me. I believe this experience you’ve made possible for your children will be one of the richest of their lives!

I so look forward to reading of your French adventures!



88 Deb April 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

LOVE these photos, Gabby! And do you know how cool you and Ben are? Seriously! Down the road, your children are going to look back and be so thankful for all the experiences you’ve given them! xo


89 KP April 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I am one of six kids and we moved to Strasbourg, France when I was 9 yrs old and my parents sent all of us in a taxi an hour away to school every day to attend a Canadian school in Germany where we spoke English and only had a few hours of French lessons during the week. I loved my experience there, but I think our parents did such a disservice to us by doing this for 3 full years. I wish they had done what you did and looked past the initial discomfort we would have felt going to a French school, because by the end of those 3 years we could have all been amazingly fluent. As it is, I am the only one who tried to keep up with French, and the other 5 kids don’t speak it at all. I’m really happy to hear about the experience your kids are having – they will be much better off than we were after 3 years.


90 Ryann Pinnegar April 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Thanks for this post! It was really interesting! If my family every has the opportunity to travel abroad I would like my kids to attend the local schools. I think it can give them a better perspective on the world, especially once they come back to the U.S.

My mom-in-law spent her first few years at French schools, and high school in Taiwan. She really enjoyed her experiences in schools abroad, and it makes the international decorations in her home more authentic for me because they represent significant experiences in her life.


91 Mary Rhoades April 6, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Awesome! Glad the kids are doing so good. Nice to see your updates on how you guys are.


92 Candice April 7, 2011 at 12:34 am

Hi from Thailand again- I have many times had that thought that my kids are doing things that I’m not sure I could do!! My oldest is in a Thai Catholic school which is all Thai children (she is the only foreigner among 4000 students) but which has an English program- so her core courses are in English and only a few are not – like Thai social studies, Thai, and Chinese. She has adjusted really well and loves it! We prefer this to very very expensive international schools or homeschooling- it’s especially great (and also challenging) for socialization and language learning. She’s had some challenges in relationships but I’m so impressed with her attitude and bravery!! Doesn’t it make you feel overwhelmed with pride sometimes! :)


93 Edez April 7, 2011 at 1:22 am

also an expat living in Dubai with my family. not much adjustment for my 4y/o daughter since we arrived here when she was just 1 y/o. But I’d say I had much needed flexibility and coping up with in the corporate world. some have really different upbringing and work etiquette. But I guess, that’s just how it is at the start, we are all flexible and will and always find a way to cope up with new things. Cheers to adventure and fun in France! have a nice day :)


94 Clare April 7, 2011 at 4:15 am

It sounds wonderful! Its funny but until you asked the question it would never have occurred to me NOT to put my boys in the local school.How else would they learn the language and become totally immersed in the life. Our boys were attending the Italian Bilingual school where the children learn through immersion.It is the only way to really become bilingual.Friends who have successfully raised their children bilingually always say the rule is simple-one person one language.My boys will not speak Italian with me as they know I speak English.Thats normal.But when i took them to Rome ? It was magic seeing the words I knew they had stored come flying out of their mouths!
We hope to move to Perugia for a year and something they look forward to is going to school. I think they know by now how fun it will be culturally.
I am loving reading about your family adventure! You will all be the richer for it.Enjoy!


95 Jan April 7, 2011 at 5:50 am

We made the decision to put our kids in French school when we arrived in Bordeaux in September and we’re very happy that we did. While it’s true that kids pick up new languages so much faster than adults (and I’m envious of their French accents) it doesn’t always feel that fast when you’re working through the first few months.
Our 5 year old son went through an initial phase where it was frustrating not to understand what was being said around him, then he moved on to feeling frustrated that others couldn’t understand him (I took that as a good sign that he was starting to express himself more, but still tough for him nonetheless). Thankfully he loves the ‘travail’ that they do at school and so was always happy to go. It took a month or so for him to find his groove at the ‘cantine’ but I think that was more because he found the one hour recess after the meal hard – it was much easier to manage the language barrier within the structure of the classroom but on the playground it was harder to break through. Eight months in he has made friends at school (and thankfully they have lovely parents that I have also made friends with!) and has adjusted to the long days – he’s s.t.a.r.v.i.n.g. when I pick him up at 4:30, not having eaten for four hours, but he always wants to play at the park with his friends rather than go home.
Our two year old daughter had a hard time adjusting to four half-days a week but that was not because of the language, rather that it was hard to be away from her mama. If we were at home in Canada I wouldn’t have put her in preschool at this age but I really wanted her to learn French so we went for it. She loves her school and one of her teachers told me the other day that she speaks more in French than some of the other French children in her class.
It will be really fun for you to look back at this post in 8-10-12 months (and 8-10-12 years) from now. The thing that I’m wondering about now is how I will help my kids maintain their French when we return home this summer – can you ask your readers for suggestions?


96 From Belgium April 7, 2011 at 6:42 am

Of course I would put my kids in the local school. I lived in Africa for a while and went to school there. I must add that the schooling was mostly done in french or english. I’ve learned my french (I am native dutch speaking) there and never ever lost the head start I got in Africa. I hope it is the same for your kids.


97 Courtney| America the Strange April 7, 2011 at 6:42 am

Hi Gabby!

Love your blog! I lived in France and taught English at an elementary school for a year (2009-2010). Much of what you say rings true for me!

I would DEFINITELY put my kids in a local school. Soak up the opportunity. Your kids will be upset later if they learn that they had a chance to learn a foreign language and didn’t! (My grandmother is Italian and never taught any of us a word!).

I believe everyone can learn a little something from French culture, and kids are less judgmental than adults, who can’t help but to put labels on everything!

I know you’re super duper busy with six kids and everything else, but please please read “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and other books about French culture. You will benefit 500% more from the experience!

-A Francophile


98 Rae April 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

I love the whole thing! English was not my first language (it’s Creole) although I was born in the United States. I remember that exhaustion when I first began school and while the majority of the kids spoke English, I was still answering the teacher in Creole! It was hilarious. Luckily, my mother was a teacher’s aide and realized I needed to practice more. I would definately recommend going to the library and checking books out to help with the language barrier. Needless to say I was one kid all the library workers knew by name because I’d practice English with them by asking a ton of questions. Good luck!


99 Crystal April 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

I think what you are doing is amazing and exciting. Thanks for sharing your families adventure. I so wish I had this opportunity as a child and am looking for opportunities for my kids. Here in CHarlotte, NC we have several public magnet schools that offer language immersion. My daughter is on the wait list for the Spanish Immersion school. I so hope she gets in.


100 Melissa Edwards April 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

You guys are doing an amazing job and one day your kids are going to be so thankful for this opportunity. Keeping you in my prayers!


101 bdaiss April 7, 2011 at 9:35 am

Love the photos! I try to do this each year with my kids on the jumping pillow at our campground.

Your kids are so brave! Such an invaluable experience to have at such a young age. I’m STILL incredibly jealous. : )


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