More About Schools

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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.

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– 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.

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– 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!

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– 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.

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– 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?

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– 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. — More posts on French schools. Also, 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.

144 thoughts on “More About Schools”

  1. 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. 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. 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!

  4. 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.

    1. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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 k12.com 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. :)

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!!!

  15. 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.

  16. Maria Ortiz-Cintron

    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!

  17. 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. :)

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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.)

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

  25. 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.

  26. Mom in Mendon

    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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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!

  31. 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?

  32. 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.)

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. 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.

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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

    Bises
    D

  40. 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.

  41. 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!

  42. 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!

  43. 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!

  44. 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!

  45. 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.

  46. 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…

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