By Gabrielle. Photos taken April 2012 — Ralph and Olive on the Eiffel Tower.
Oh my goodness. Ben and I arrived home from Sweden yesterday afternoon, just in time for a remarkable week for our family. We have two birthdays this week — Olive and Ralph. We have the first day of school (it’s today!). And we’ll be traveling to Utah as a family this coming Friday to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday.
But more impactful than any of that: two of our kids will be exchange students this fall, and they are flying off this week! I find myself crying elephant tears while I type this because the reality of them leaving feels so big. I can honestly say, I’m over the top happy that they’ll get this experience, and at the same time my heart tightens and I catch my breath trying to imagine the house without them.
Today is one of the first really warm days of the year (really warm in Normandy means low 70s : ) and we’re starting to think about summer. But alas! It’s not time yet. The school year here goes all the way through June!
So I thought it would be fun to share one more update about our educational experience in France, before the school year ends and we move back to the U.S.. And if you’re curious, here’s a link to earlier posts about French school. I’m going to try and cover topics I haven’t mentioned in earlier posts, and this time, most of the updates relate to middle school — because 3 of the kids, Ralph, Maude & Olive, are all in middle school.
- One thing that it took us awhile to realize: at our middle school and high school, called college and lycée, there are no substitute teachers. If the teacher can’t make it that day, they just don’t show up. The students will be in class, and if the teacher hasn’t shown up a few minutes in, the Class Delegate will go to the office to find out what’s up. If the office informs them the teacher is out for the day, the students will go to “perm” which is study time. (Fun fact: Oscar is his class delegate. He had to prepare a speech — in French, of course — on the voting day. So cute!)
Something interesting about our French school (and from what I understand, all French schools), is that needlework is part of the curriculum.
I realized this during our first year here, when (then 9-year-old) Olive’s school class completed two separate cross-stitch projects — both the boys and the girls. I asked around, and apparently, this wasn’t unusual at all.
Our school year is winding down here in France, so I thought it would be fun to write up another little update on our kids’ experience in the local schools. I hope you enjoy it!
The first thing I wanted to mention was handwriting. I snapped the photo of the chart below in the 6-year-old’s classroom at my kids’ school. Having good handwriting is a big deal here! And seems to be a universal skill. Even at the village market, all the signs for fruit and veggies are hand written in beautiful script.
Ralph says when he first arrived, his math teacher picked up one of his worksheets and publicly started scolding him. (This is awful! I can’t read it at all!!) Ralph was so embarrassed! He has since started working hard on his penmanship, and has vastly improved.
Script is the main form they learn to write in — even the littlest kids. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids use basic print on their school work or even notes to friends.
Along with good handwriting, instead of mostly using pencils in school, they write with pens only. In fact, all of my kids agree that in French schools, pencils are exclusively for art and geometry. No exceptions!
From the moment they start learning to write the alphabet, at around age 5, they use refillable ink fountain pens. But. They also have pen erasers — a separate tool from the pen itself.
Something else that seems so different is athletics. Sports seem to play a less influential role overall in the schools here, compared to our experience in New York and Colorado. Maude says there are still jocks — they’re the kids that are good at soccer. But that being good at sports isn’t really what makes you popular, and that even the athletes feel like school work is the most important.
Sport shorts are short! For both girls and boys. And no one would ever wear athletic clothes or sport shots as school clothes. Athletic clothes are reserved for gym only. The same holds true for adults — I have never seen an adult running errands in workout clothes or yoga pants. Never even once!
Here are the sports that have been covered in my kids’ gym classes: Badminton (this is big here!), handball, inline-skating, swimming, ping pong, kayaking, rugby, cricket and soccer (which, of course, is called football here). They’ve also had a section on baseball, but Olive says it’s not quite the same — for example, they hold the bat with one hand!
Lastly, one thing my kids have noticed that’s really different from American schools, is the public criticism. Similar to the story of Ralph’s handwriting above, the teachers announce each student’s grade on every test and assignment publicly. And they’ll scold (sometimes even mock?) students who didn’t score well — right in front of the rest of the classmates. My kids report that the French kids don’t seem to notice, it’s just the way it’s always been. But you can bet my kids are always relieved when they get a good score!
I’d love to hear what you think! Would your kids thrive in a French school? Do you have an opinion on good penmanship?
P.S. — You can find earlier reports about school and my kids learning French here, here, and here. The very first report is here.
I’ve been getting requests for an update on my children’s experience learning French, so I thought I’d write up a little report. For a timing reference, March 1st marked one full year in French schools, and at home, we speak almost exclusively in English. Here’s an update kid by kid.
In school situations, Betty seems pretty much fluent. If she’s out of school and speaking with a neighbor, sometimes she needs more context to understand (but at her age, that’s true in English as well). She gets complimented on her accent (or the lack of it) all the time. Here’s a little video of Betty telling part of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Oscar is doing great as well. When we ask him to speak French at home, he sort of huffs and puffs about it, and is very resistant. But when friends come over, he doesn’t have to think twice and communicates with them only in French. He also thinks when I attempt to speak French in my thick American accent, that it’s hilarious!! He about dies laughing every time.
Olive is also excelling. She gets compliments on her accent as often as Betty and if we’re not listening, she speaks freely with any friends or neighbors she encounters. She never hesitates to answer the phone in French, and you may remember, she went a week-long ski trip with her class and spoke only French.
Maude gets compliments on her ability to construct a sentence correctly. She works hard! Maude is more hesitant to speak because she wants to get it right. And she’s doing great. Her grades are where they would be if she was in an American school, and she does all her homework in French.
Ralph’s French is impressive. Last week, his Language Arts teacher wrote on his paper: Your French is getting better every day. He often has top scores in his classes — even courses like history and physics which involve pretty challenging French. When the Hunger Games Movie came out last week, Maude and Ralph watched it in French (with no English subtitles). Previously, they’ve only wanted to see English movies, so that seemed like a major milestone.
As for Flora June, she’s almost 2, and we’re delighted with every sound that comes out of her mouth. She is a charmer!
Overall, they’re doing marvelously with their language and both Ben Blair and I are constantly impressed with how hard they work. Learning a language is tough! It makes your brain tired. For reals! It’s surprising out physically challenging it feels. For all of our children, it’s true that they understand more than they can speak — I’m not sure when/if that evens out.
My thoughts on kids + a new language, in case you’re curious:
It seems like, if you want to give children the gift of a second language, and make it easy for them, bringing them to a foreign country and putting them in school at age 5 and 6 is a wonderful way to do it. After a year or so, they’ll be pretty darn fluent without even trying! Ideally, you could then enroll them in a language immersion program when you move back to your home country so they can keep up their language skills. But the downside is, at those ages, they’ll probably have almost no memories of their time in a foreign country.
Keeping that in mind, if your goal is to give your children a broader world view or more cultural experiences, moving to a new country at age 10+ seems ideal. But picking up a new language will definitely be harder the older your children are.
P.S. — If you’d like to read them, earlier kid reports are here and here.
We’re over a month into the new school year and I thought you might like some more fun facts, reported by my kids, about their experience at French school. You can find our last report here.
- Sometimes Ben Blair and I think we have a good handle on things. But then we realize we have no idea what’s going on. Today, when we picked them up from school, Betty, Oscar and Olive reported that it was field day and apparently they were supposed to go to school in sport pants and bring water bottles. We had no idea! And I swear, we have been reading the notes. Hah!
- Olive plays marbles during recess (so old school!). She said it’s pretty competitive. The kids bring pencil cases full of marbles. I like taking pictures of the marbles. : )
- Ralph said the kids at school think he is an expert rapper. But he said really, he just knows the lyrics to an Eminem song.
- All five are coming along with their French and understand lots of what’s said at school. Last year, we didn’t have them do homework, but this year they do. Sometimes that means a several-hour-long session at the computer with Google translate.
- When kids are finished with lunch, they wait for everyone else at your table to finish too.
- Maude is taking Latin this year. Ralph is taking Spanish. They like taking these classes because they’re at the same starting point as their classmates and they get good scores. They said it’s strange to feel like the best in some classes and the worst in others.
- In middle school, the boys always greet each other with a handshake. Each boy goes and shakes every other boy’s hand. They also shake hands when they say goodbye. The girls say hello and goodbye with a kiss on each cheek.
- Kids younger than middle school greet and say goodbye with one cheek kiss.
- We mentioned the track suits on a previous report, but during warm weather, the boys wear short shorts during gym. (We’re still used to the US look of long sport shorts.)
- The backpack of choice is Eastpak.
- The biggest sport is soccer. Badminton, handball and ping-pong are also a big deal.
- The students all stand when an adult walks into the classroom.
- Many of the high school kids smoke and the adults don’t seem too stressed out about it. They’re not allowed to on campus, but as soon as they walk past the campus fence, students feel free to light up and don’t feel compelled to hide it.
- Our kids are used to school lunch here. They said they’re curious about what they’ll think of school lunch when they return to the States.
- Sort of school related: The kids are getting lots of invitations to birthday parties. The parties are simple and sweet. Not a lot of fuss.
Overall, everyone is doing great and staying enthusiastic about school. We’re super proud of them!
School supplies are a big deal here. The lists are long. And they’re detailed. Instead of listing something like “notebook”, they’ll specify dimensions, interior details, and color. Shopping for our school supplies took about twice as long as the back-to-school clothes shopping. I think we made 10 trips to 6 different stores before we gathered everything. It surprised me!
I took photos of some of the prettiest items. I love the colored pencils and the folders with the fabric closures. And I think the pencil cases are handsome. Something interesting: classic yellow No. 2 pencils aren’t really sold here. French students use pens more than pencils. Their standard pencils are grey HB pencils with no erasers on the end. And instead of buying them in boxes of 12, you purchase them 2 at a time (pre-sharpened).
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.
- 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.
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. : )
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.
My name is Gabrielle Blair. I'm a designer and mother of six. After 2 1/2 years in France, we just bought a home in Oakland, California. We call it The Treehouse. I post on where design and motherhood intersect.
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