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. 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:)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!)

  6. Gabrielle,

    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.


  7. 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!

  8. Whitney Smith Cripe

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!


  13. 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.

  14. 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!!

  15. 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.

  16. 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!!

  17. 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. :)

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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:)

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

  29. 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

  30. 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!


  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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! :)

  35. 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 :)

  36. 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!

  37. 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?

  38. 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.

  39. 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

  40. 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!

  41. 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.

  42. 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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