Design Mom » French Schools The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 24 Jun 2016 10:46:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report from France Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:03:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images from Olive’s Instagram. Video by Ralph.

As promised, here is a little report about Olive and Ralph and their experience in France this semester.

Olive has been in France since September 1st. She’s young (she turned 13 the week before she moved), and we knew this might not work for her, so we were prepared to fly her back home if she wasn’t thriving. But so far, she seems to LOVE it. She’s staying with our dear friend, Caroline, and Olive says she’s amazed how fast dinner clean up goes with fewer people in the house. Hah! I love that she’s getting to see how another house is run. It’s important to me that my kids understand there are lots of right ways to do most things.

She really seems to be developing a sense of independence — helped by the fact that she lives in town and isn’t waiting on a car and parent to get her around. During her first week, she needed to change her money from dollars to euros, and instead of waiting for a grownup, she decided to take care of the task herself. She walked herself to the bank and inquired about the exchange. The bankers sent her to the post office and she was able to take care of it there. No big deal. And just to remind you, this is all taking place in French.

Speaking of French, she said she’s doing well with the language and can speak mostly accent free. She’s enrolled in the same school she attended when we lived there and it’s been wonderful for her to instantly know people and be in a familiar place.

Argentan Mural

Olive has also been acting as translator. There is an American family living in La Cressonière and they have kids attending the same school as Olive. One of them is in her class, and as he learns French, Olive is helping translate as needed. Several years ago, when our kids first started at that school, there was an Irish family attending, and they kindly acted as translators for my kids, so I like the idea that Olive can pay the kindness forward.

When we lived there, Olive’s extra-curricular activities were horseback riding and piano. We wondered if she would want to sign up for those again this semester. But instead, she’s taking a drama class and really enjoying it.

Caroline has also taken Olive to visit our Cottage (which reminds me, I still haven’t properly introduced the cottage. It’s on my list!)

Normandy Field

Now on to Ralph. You may remember, Ralph spent the last week of August and most of September in England. He’s been in France since September 27th.

This whole study abroad concept has really grabbed Ralph’s imagination. Like Olive, he’s thriving too, and can see the possibilities. He’s even started talking to friends in Japan and Australia about doing exchanges. Who knows if it will happen, but either way, he clearly loves this!

England was wonderful for him. He found that getting to experience a taste of the school there was really satisfying. He loved meeting new people and being able to determine his own schedule. He was able to explore the town of Abingdon and he and his friend could take the train to London to explore there as well. (Ralph loves London!)

And then, when he arrived in France, he couldn’t stop telling us how awesome our little town of Argentan is. He said he didn’t understand how awesome it was until he moved back, and that we should move the family back asap. : ) He said he loves walking around town because he sees so many people he knows and loves — like the clockmaker — as he goes about his day.

His language is excellent, but he talks often about wanting to get it perfect. His goal is complete fluency and he studies the nuances to figure out where he’s still getting it wrong.

He also attends the same school as Olive, but only sort of. He’s auditing classes so he can attend as much as he likes, but his coursework is through K12. This seems to be working well. He is able to get his school work done in a few hours, which leaves him time for writing screen plays and working on films, which is for sure his first love.

His latest movie is the one at the top and I feel like it’s his best so far. And maybe his best by far! It’s only two minutes, I hope you’ll watch it because I think you’ll really enjoy it. (And if you do, I hope you’ll share it. It’s a good one!)

One interesting thing is that doing his school work independently has reminded him of how much of a typical school day is just sort of busy work or wasted time moving between classes, and he’s wondering what it would take to graduate early and be completely done with high school. So we’re looking into that to see what it would take. Ralph seems to do well in a school setting — he’s super social — so of course it’s interesting for us to see that he’s find to be done with that and move on.

As expected, both love the food!

I can’t believe they’ve been gone for almost 2 months! We miss them like crazy and the house always feels a little empty without them. One unexpected result that has come with their absence: We thought Maude might get lonely, but she really seems to be thriving. Sometimes I forget that Maude is an introvert and really needs alone time to recharge. With Ralph and Olive gone, she seems to be getting more of that precious alone time and is enjoying life more than ever! Ben Blair and I are already talking about how we’ll help her preserve that time once they return.

To stay connected, every Sunday morning we have a family Google Chat, where we can share 3 screens and get to have time together. Of course, we also get to talk with Ralph and Olive throughout the week as needed. Hallelujah for technology! And I continue to be comforted knowing Olive and Ralph can connect in person if they’re homesick.

I think that’s it for a report today. Anything I missed? If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with international exchanges, or study abroad semesters, or kids far from home. And what do you think about Ralph’s video? I always love reading your words!

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Back to School & Back to France Mon, 25 Aug 2014 11:20:55 +0000 Design Mom

Eiffel Tower View2

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.

Eiffel Tower View1

Ralph is turning 17 this week and he is headed off to England and France. He’s staying at the homes of boys that lived with us this past Spring/Summer. He’ll spend one month in England with Chris, and 3 months in France with Charles. Then he’ll come home for Christmas.

Olive is turning 13 this week and is also heading out. After her school trip to France in the spring, she asked us if there was any way she could attend school in France this fall. So we started making phone calls and tentatively reaching out about possible options. Our dear friend, Caroline, graciously offered to host, and now, it’s actually happening! She’ll come home at Christmas as well.

Ralph’s exchange has been on the calendar for ages. He and his friends started making these arrangements before we left France. But Olive’s France plans are still new and my brain is still adjusting. When I’m feeling nervous about having both of them so far away, this is what I remind myself of: They both speak French and they both know the families they will be staying with — I know a semester away would be a thousand times harder if they were showing up somewhere unfamiliar and staying with people they’d never met or speaking a new-to-them language.

Also, once Ralph arrives in France from England at the end of September, he and Olive will get to see each other almost daily, because they will both attend the same school. I’m so comforted by that! The school they’ll be attending is actually the same school they went to when we lived there — they’ve only been gone for one year, so I’m hoping the transition back to French school won’t be too jarring. And of course, if any of this turns out to be a mistake, they can always come home.

Mostly, we’re all super excited for their upcoming adventures! We’re talking about the amazing food they’ll eat. What it will be like to live with another family. Ways they can help out at their host family’s home. Where they might go during school breaks. How often we’ll facetime. That sort of thing.

Tell me, Friends, have you or your kids ever been exchange students? Or maybe lived for awhile with an Aunt or Grandparents or family friends in another state? What are your thoughts on exchanges like these?

P.S. — Curious about French schools? I’ve written several posts about our experience with them. Post about our life in France are here.

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French Schools: One More Report Wed, 05 Jun 2013 16:00:02 +0000 Design Mom

vintage French school book

By Gabrielle. Vintage French school book here.

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!)

- Sometimes the grade-level curriculum in the U.S. and France align pretty well, but other times, they don’t. After 2.5 years of school here, we’re predicting our kids will be ahead of their American peers in topics like history and geography, but behind in other topics — for example, our school doesn’t seem to have any sort of advanced math program.

- Related, both Oscar and Betty have learned to read since we moved here. They learned simultaneously alongside their French peers. This means that at the moment, they are both stronger readers in French than in English. We will of course, have to be mindful of this as they transition back to American schools.

- Ralph is currently in 9th Grade, which is the last year of middle school here in France. Like all of his class peers, he is gearing up to take a big test, called the Brevet des Collèges, in order to see if he can qualify for high school. From what we understand, if students fail the Brevet de College, they repeat a grade. If a student fails the Brevet de College 3 times over 3 years, they go to a career-finding class instead of high school.

- Related to what I just mentioned about the tests, we’ve noticed there doesn’t seem to be much shame attached to repeating a grade. In our experience, ages and grade levels are far more fluid here than they are in the U.S. For example, in Maude’s class, there are kids from 13 to 16, and no one bats an eye.

- Our school is strict about screens. Personal iPods and cell phones get confiscated for 2 weeks if students are caught using them.

- Something that took my kids awhile to get used to: Schools here don’t have drinking fountains. And really, that seems to be true for France in general (though these are an exception). On the first day of school, when we first moved here, Ralph asked about a drinking fountain and the kids directed him to the bathrooms where they leaned over the sink and got a drink from the faucet. But our kids eventually realized that none of the kids drank anything outside of regularly scheduled meals. No carrying water bottles around, and no water breaks between classes. It’s not like it’s forbidden, it’s just not something that’s done.

- I may have mentioned this before, but smoking is common among students in college and lycée (middle and high school). It’s not allowed ON campus, but if you’re on the sidewalk just outside the campus gate, it seems to be fine. The students don’t pretend to hide it from adults, or even their teachers. There doesn’t seem to be much fuss about it at all.

- In our school, the junior high and high school students move from class to class, but they move as a group. They are with the same group of about 30 kids throughout the year.

- Instead of counting up to 12th grade from kindergarten, grade levels in France count down to the Bac (the big deal test you take as you finish lycée). For example, 8th grade is called quatrieme (4th), 9th grade is called troisieme (3rd), etc.

- Our children have become used to the looong lunch breaks and the multi-course meals served in La Cantine, the school cafeteria. I think transitioning back to 30 minute U.S. school lunch may be a shock to their systems. : )

- Olive mentioned that there’s not really a “popular” group, in the same way that there are “popular” kids in American schools. Partly, this is because students switch schools often — though usually not mid-year. It’s not uncommon for students to try a different school every couple of years.

- Related, there is really zero focus on a “school identity”. There are no mascots, no school teams, no school colors, school songs, or any sort of school rivalries. All sports are done at the community level or on private teams. The strongest identity demonstration happens when there’s a town parade and the kids walk behind a school banner.

- But that doesn’t mean no sports happen at school. All the students take gym and are exposed to lots of different sports. Badminton, ping pong, and football (meaning soccer) are super competitive. And recently, our school installed new sports equipment: rugby goal posts and basketball hoops.

I hope you enjoy these school updates. Hopefully, if you read them all, you’ll have a good sense of our educational experience here.

P.S. — For those of you who are curious, all 5 of the older kids are fluent in French now, with varying levels of accent. And this week, little June’s babysitter mentioned she has started speaking French with the other toddlers. So cute!

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Needlework for Children in France Tue, 02 Apr 2013 14:00:24 +0000 Design Mom


Text and images by Gabrielle.

Something interesting about our French school (and from what I understand, all French schools), is that needlework is part of the curriculum.

Embroidery and France

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.

Embroidery and France

Then, just a few months ago, Maude was introduced to embroidery for children in France, when her friend and peer gave her a beautifully embroidered wallet. The whole thing, including the binding on the edges, had been hand-stitched by her friend years earlier. Isn’t it lovely?

The embroidery introduction continued when Maude’s French tutor, an 80-year old French woman named Marie, who is very refined, started to teach Maude different embroidery stitches as part of their tutoring sessions.

I should note, when I mention French tutoring, what I mean is, the oldest 3 kids meet with Marie weekly, one-on-one at the public library. And they just chat. About all sorts of topics — zombie movies, images of our town during WWII, scenes from plays, or even embroidery. The hour-long chats introduce new vocabulary and strengthen our children’s French skills, but don’t involve formally practicing conjugations or rote memorization. It’s a way to practice French, and learn about French culture, without feeling like they’re doing more homework.

Embroidery and France Embroidery and France

Anyway, Marie introduced embroidery to Maude as a topic of conversation for their tutoring sessions, and Mimi, who is so good with her hands, has been loving it.

Marie brought a needle, a thimble, and a small piece of fabric. Maude already had a stockpile of embroidery thread (she uses it for friendship bracelets). And now Maude is practicing the different stitches.

Embroidery and France

And pictured here, Olive’s charming, cross-stitched, recipe notebook mentioned above. It sits happily in our kitchen and records the French recipes we try.

Being able to correctly use a needle and thread seems to be considered a basic life skill here. The understanding is that everyone needs to know how to sew on a button, or make basic repairs to clothing.

No doubt it relates to the clothing culture here, which, from what I’ve observed, is not as “disposable” as it is in the U.S. — especially for adults. People tend to own less clothing overall, but invest more on individual items, then care for them properly, and wear them for a long time.

Embroidery and France

I’d love your thoughts on all of this. What would you think if needlework was introduced as part of the curriculum in your school? Waste of time? Kids should be taking keyboarding instead? Or, referencing Amy’s excellent post from yesterday, would you group needlework with The Arts? And just out of curiosity, how are your own needle skills? Did you ever learn how to properly sew on a button or patch your clothes? I’d love to hear!

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School Update Tue, 19 Jun 2012 12:48:28 +0000 Design Mom

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.

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Language Report Wed, 28 Mar 2012 13:43:30 +0000 Design Mom

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.

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School Report Fri, 07 Oct 2011 15:55:50 +0000 Design Mom

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!

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School Supplies in France Fri, 02 Sep 2011 10:16:54 +0000 Design Mom

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).

Did you buy any pretty school supplies this year?

This is a snapshot of Olive’s school supply list. Apparently, the French are really serious about their brass instruments. : )

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More About Schools Wed, 06 Apr 2011 12:34:36 +0000 Design Mom

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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School in France Wed, 16 Feb 2011 11:50:25 +0000 Design Mom

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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