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 think it’s amazing, what you and your family are doing. I love reading these posts – the details of living abroad. I especially like your upbeat honesty. I am living out my dreams of moving abroad through your posts. Thanks for sharing.

    And please tell your kids I think they are incredible. Such a wonderful challenge attending a foreign school!

  2. Loved, LOVED the pictures of the beautiful flying Blairs! Who was the photographer?? It’s marvelous that you all are brave and not afraid to leave your comfort zones. Delightfully inspiring!!! Keep Soaring!

  3. Hello, after reading this post, I’m reminded of when we went to live in Spain for 18 months. It was tough and I guess I just thought we would fit into life easily. I am of Hispanic heritage and my husband is of Italian but we are Londoners through and through and although we knew the cultural differences before we went…it was still hard. After visiting many schools, we enrolled our kids into an International school. Two infact. The first was a Spanish school which taught alot of english. After a couple of terms, we didn’t feel right there. My kids were being taught english that they would learn as pre schoolers. Which is fine if you’re spanish. So we then sent them to an International British school. This worked great for us. After saying we didn’t want to just be friends with expats, we just gravitated towards eachother. It was during Americas Cup and we were in Valencia and there were loads of Americans, Australians, Newzealenders, South Africans, British and off course Spanish. It made life a bit easier. Most lessons in the British school were taught in English but there were also spanish lessons, more for the non spanish. I think for us, this was the most comfortable solution. I don’t think you have an International school near you, but I made friends with some expats who decided to go the local schools route and that worked out well for them. There’s just alot of adjustments and that takes time. There were also many people who critised us for going the International route, but you just have to go with what you feel comfortable with.

  4. I lived in Germany for a while, by myself, and it really helps with the language skills to be completely immersed like that. It would probably have been a nice break to come home to family speaking English of an evening, mind.

    Now I live in America, I’m experiencing a little of the opposite: wondering why people here hardly ever use their knives when eating, don’t wear P.E. kit for P.E., and eat cakes made from cake mixes that are just not as tasty…

  5. I’m sure someone already said this or you’ve already thought about it but I just recall the physical exhaustion of speaking another language all day since it was something new to my mouth! Sounds weird, but think about how long you’ve used those muscles to make certain sounds and now they have to learn to make new ones. Plus, the mental exhaustion! But they’ll start getting it and it will get easier. So keep that in mind – it’s not just the long school day but also the long French day!

  6. Wow, so interesting. There were so many thoughts that crossed my mind as I was reading this that I don’t think I could remember them all to comment! To answer your question, I can’t imagine being brave enough to move to another country so I haven’t the faintest idea what I would do about school. For as much as your kids are challenged on a day-to-day basis, I think this is such a wonderful oppurtunity for them. One they will surely never regret.
    I remember hearing somewhere that overnight field trips with young children (no parents) is quite common in France. I think I would be too scared to allow my child to go even though I am SURE it would be okay, I mean if it’s common it must turn out alright!
    It is really so fascinating to hear your stories! So far, France makes America sound a bit uncivilized! ;)

  7. First, I loved reading about everyone’s adventures abroad, and I wonder what program you all traveled with or with your families. I too lived aboard for a year, in BXL, Belgium through Rotary. My experiences are very similar as those that have been discussed above. It was a long struggle to learn french but loved my experience and actually had a harder time coming home. “Reverse deculturization” is the term for it, and Dr. White has some great studies that helped me find a balance between my cultures once returning to American schools. I also spoke with Maya Frost while she was writing the book “New Global Student” and her family is a great example of how school experiences in different cultures and counties can be such a great asset. I highly recommend reading it and gaining a “bold school” mind set. Good luck with everything in France.

    I still keep in touch with many of my friends from all around the world now 8 years later. One of my host families actually come to my wedding 3 years ago. And, one of my friends is going to be going to grad-school here in the US only a few hours from me.

  8. Yes, I would put my children in the local schools. The experience is invaluable and would be such a shame to waste such a wonderful opportunity.

  9. Another great post on your adventure in France. I predict once the kids get French down they are not going to want to move back next year. :)

  10. Keep it up! It is terrific that the kids are in school in France. When our kids were 6 and 9, we spent a year in Denmark. They went to the local school. Though there were many challenges, they loved the experience, learned Danish like native children, and now as adults, will talk about how it changed their view of the world. Like your Ralph, they noticed that there are so many differences between our culture but realized at a young age that that is a good thing, and that the “American way” isn’t necessarily the best. It is all worth the work and the days of heartache. To hear your daughter have her dolls talk to one another in a foreign language or your son explain to everyone on Parent night how glaciers formed land structures in Danish! it is all worth it.

  11. I hope my two cents help you in anyway possible. My brother and I were sent to boarding school abroad in another country where we did not know the language. I was fourteen and my little brother was 5 years old. He had a hard time adapting to the school and the change in culture. I would tell you to have lots of patience and dedicate extra time to him. Take him out on a date, go see a movie together, do something that he likes. Make him feel that he has support, even though as a fellow mom, I know he has but you have to say it and make it into action. Hope this helps. If you wish to know more please email me, I will help in any way possible.

  12. I spent time in Europe as a child and I think the school days are far superior to those here. We had 3 recesses and I yes, I remember playing outside in the cold and wet. My son went to school in Sweden for a brief time and even the 2 year olds used fork and knife to eat their lunches. Enjoy this time as it’s one they will cherish (maybe not for some time) forever. I still remember my years abroad fondly–even though I longed for the US.

  13. I haven’t commented in a while, but I’m still here reading!

    And I just wanted to say that I love this post. It is so interesting how each child is incredibly different!!

    I know the days are longer, but wow… a 2-hour, 3 course lunch??

    Thank you for your honesty and detail. It is extremely interesting.

  14. When I was 7 my family moved from Brazil to inner city Chicago. My dad taught me one word “bathroom.” When things got really rough and I was overwhelmed with not understanding a single word of English I would raise my hand and say “bathroom.” The teacher would let me go to the bathroom and I would go, curl up and cry, and then return to class. This went on for months until I learned another word and the another and before I knew it I could speak English!

    You’re giving your kids a wonderful experience, even if it’s a little hard.

  15. So fun to learn about the differences. The longer school day with a day off sounds really nice. And a two hour break, wow. My daughter told me the other day that they have 20 minutes to eat their lunch and they have to eat in their snow clothes so they have time for recess. Crazy. I hate that they have to shove their food down while bundled up. Thanks for sharing!
    xo Trina

  16. We put our children in the German Grundschule (elem. school) for 2 years. Our kids were ages 8, 6, and 4 when they started. We found our girls learned the language more quickly, just because they were better listeners. Yes, the days were tiring, although the hours were much shorter than yours are experiencing in France. (Perhaps the hours are longer in Germany now, too, with so many working mothers.) Learning the language, listening to it all day is a big mental effort. But within a year they were babbling happily with their friends, off to play dates and field trips, and speaking German at home as often as they did English. Right before we moved back to the U.S. they were invited to be the ring bearer and flower children at our neighbor’s wedding. Our 10 year old (by then) recited a poem to the bride, written by the bride’s mother, at the wedding luncheon. The guests did not know she was American. Hang in there, it will come, and they will be glad they did it.

  17. WOW, very informative! So interesting to hear about the 2 hour, 3 course lunch. And the spoon only for dessert! It would be tough to learn the language, but good for you for helping them immerse fully into the culture;)

  18. I love this story! What do they do in Art class? What is the biggest difference?
    Have the kids made friends? TELL us More! I love it! You are living a Dream!
    I really want to know about the Arts!

  19. I love that the children eat with forks and spoons. I think I read that some schools have food that doesn’t require a spoon or a fork for safety reasons.

    This makes me want to pick up and move to France.

  20. A friend of yours, Alice Shippee, found my blog page on Facebook and directed me to you. Love this post and look forward to having more time to read the other French adventure posts. As you can see by my blog, we’re moving to the South of France. Currently in NYC selling all our things as I write. We spent 3 months this winter feeling it out and put our 4 year old in a bilingual school for two of those months. I’m super excited to hear how well your kids are doing with full immersion. I’ve been scared about doing it but feel it’s the best way too. T struggles that the kids all speak French, but he started to settle and understand some of what was being said to him during the French hours. E is only 2 and everything is fine as far as she’s concerned as long as we keep the “pain au chocolats” coming. :) And thankfully my husband speaks French! Me, not so much. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  21. Reading your posts about french life and the things you find different or strange makes me realise that the UK is more european than north american, we also expect children to use a knife and fork from an early age and though my children change their undies every day they dont change everything.
    I suspect that a lot of european houses are not as well heated as in the US and therefore lots of layers are practical.
    I am curious as to what US children wear to swim in, that speedos are considered so strange, most french pools dont allow shorts type bathers and here in the UK it varies. The boys in the local swimming club wear either speedos or jammers, which are the knee length version.

  22. My family moved to India for 3 years when I was around 7. I went to the American Embassy School for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Living in India was the most amazing experience of my life. I remember more about our time there than my sister who was 10 – smells, tastes of food, and smiles of people in the park watching a crazy, blonde American girl play with her dog or ride her bike. School was in English which made it easier for us to adjust, but New Delhi’s poverty, dirt and crowded streets were quite shocking for a girl from DC. As a new mom I understand why you are nervous, but please know that my 3 years overseas were instrumental in making me who I am today – an openminded, passionate person who loves to travel and experience new things.

  23. My mom’s family moved to France when she was 12. The funny thing is, they thought my mom was borderline too old to be put into a french school… so the school suggested they put her into the next grade up so that when she inevitably flunked, she’d still be in her proper grade level when returning to America. But my mom was determined, learned the language quickly, and ended up not flunking out. So — she not only transitioned into a french school and learned a new language… she skipped a grade while doing so! :) She and her family still have dear friends from that time in their life. I grew up hearing stories about it and was always jealous that I didn’t get to have the same experience. Your kids will always be grateful for their time in France, I’m sure. I’d love to be able to do the same with my kids one day.

  24. Jenn de Jonge-Maurer

    I think it’s wonderful that you are sending your children to a local school. I have lived in The Netherlands for more than 10 years and I’ve met a lot of expats who refuse to have an international experience. They want to live abroad, but still be in their English-speaking bubble. My children are half Dutch, so it goes without saying that they would attend local schools, but I make sure to share my American heritage with them and teach them American English. Your kids will thank you for it when they are older and it’s all the better for their general well-being, I think.

  25. I have my three daughters in an amazing French independent school in New Orleans. It follows and is accredited by the French Ministry of Education. I agree with you when you say the work is more difficult then what you did–I am amazed each week by the quality of work my children accomplish! The school and curriculum is like no other I have ever attended or visited. I believe you are doing the best for your children and should continue with the French curriculum when you return home!
    One day I hope to go to France for a year for my children! Great job!

  26. When I was about 9 years old we came to live in the USA for 2 years, I am originally from Venezuela and that’s where I was coming from. I went to regular school and adapted really well. I don’t even remember having a hard time! My mom says I had private english classes at the beginning until I was ok and that just lasted a couple of months. I think that what you are doing with your kids is the best! They will eventually adapt, they learn everything so quick and absorb like sponges! Plus they seem to be very strong already! Thanks for sharing, it’s very very interesting to learn about the differences.

  27. We lived for three years in the UK. We sent our little ones to a Montessori preschool, but homeschooled them afterwards. Sometimes I wish they had attended British schools longer. If I had it to do over again, I think we would have them in the local school. It offers an incomparable opportunity to experience the culture and make lifelong connections in your adopted country.

    They’ll come through it so much better off. What a blessing! And Olive must get her bravery from her Mama and Papa. I love that you are sharing such a fabulous adventure. I hope that other folks will be inspired to try doing the same.


  28. It has been so interesting to read about all your adventures living abroad. Your children are learning to be adventurous and brave. I’m sure they’ll carry that with them throughout their lives. As a mom, you should feel very proud.

  29. We lived in Spain for 12 years when our 4 children were in grade school. It had it’s ups–really speaking Spanish, a disciplined style of learning, being a bit of a “rock star” with no other Americans in town — and downs– it did not foster a lot of creativity and we spent a lot of time at home with some English studies. A school in Madrid sent US state testing to us each year to measure how we were keeping up. But now I treasure to unique school memories/experiences they grew up with. We returned in time for high school–and college at Caltech, Berkeley and Wheaton. I applaud your plan to spend this time abroad. Your sweet kids will be richer for it.

  30. SO worth it! This is such an awesome experience for every member of your family in a wonderfully unique way. My husband’s family moved to Mexico City when his mother was 9 months pregnant with him with a 7 & 9 year old in tow. They were there for 10 years and every member of their family is so grateful for the experience…my husband & his brothers have each thanked their parents for making that decision for their family. We are so looking forward to a time where we can take our kids abroad! Really enjoying reading your tales and feel like I’m learning so much! Thanks for sharing.

  31. You are fantastic! and I would love to know your kids who must be so proud of what they are currently achieving in France. I would think it’s a very challenging environment as French always seem to be allergic to English (the language & people speaking it)(and I know what I am talking about, I am French).
    I also think that you kids are bringing as much to their new French friends as they receive from them.
    It’s great!

  32. I am French and I recently came back from Virginia where my family stayed for three years. In short, I lived the reverse experience. From 1st to 12th grade my children went to American public schools.

    That’s so funny to consider that French kids appeared to you as bizare as American ones were to me. As you now experienced the difference, try to imagine how surprised were my children when American friends were simply not able to stay at the table when offered an afternoon snack. What an idea to sit still around a table to share a cake ! That’s just French.

    We really enjoyed discovering millions of small details that make French and American so differents. They are also millions of small reasons to become closer friends.

    God bless America

  33. Thanks for sharing this. It’s so great to read especially as I spend my second year abroad (in Spain) although I don’t have children. You are really setting them up to be bilingual for life by exposing them to this langauge at such a young age. I wish I had had the same experience because it is so much more difficult to learn language as you get older. Besides the language – the adventure and the culture. So fabulous!

  34. I just started working as an English language assistant at three French primary schools in the Rhone-Alpes region and there are several English-speaking students (American and English) at one of the schools. It’s amazing to me at how quickly children can pick up a language. Good luck to your brave children!

  35. We moved to Spain when our son was entering 9th grade and our daughter kindergarden……five years old is the perfect age I think!!…..our son had to go to boarding school as he needed an American School for college preparation……so he went to Mallorca….and we visited him more than he wanted!!….(:…..our daughter went to a local Spanish school and it was like yours in France…..long days, long lunches with the same type food……she had all her extracurricular activities right at the school during the school day which is nice instead of running them around after school……

    In three months our daughter was speaking Spanish and after five years she was fluent in Spanish with no accent…..and to this day she is 31 can speak very well with no accent……our son learned quite a bit also even in boarding school……one big disadvantage is children could order a drink if they can reach the bar and look like they might be of age whatever that is!!!……a problem for boarding school children……(or their parents!)

  36. It was very interesting to read about the differences between French and American schools. Although it was many years ago, I started elementary school in Belgium and the differences were very similar at the time. I think Americans could do well to extend the school day in the same fashion. It seems that here, the children are rushed through the day, from one subject to another and I’m not sure that there is any benefit to that.

  37. We too put our kids in French Public schools. The French start their students at 3 yrs of age in all day public schools. Our kids went two days a week and then we gradually worked to all day. We had a few issues (35 students per one class for one teacher) with the public school so we found a Montesorri school and it was amazing! We were warned that the teachers in the public schools are very strict and if you are tardy with your child and have to ring the buzzard to unlock the door you will get yelled at by the principal and teacher. I have to say, it did happen to us twice and it was quit humiliating. It sounds like your school is very warm and loving…not all French schools are as nice. Our kids are now back in the US Public Schools and are amazed at how warm and caring the teachers are here. Living abroad always helps to put things in perspective.

  38. Just a note to say how much I am enjoying your story…I am curious looking back how you might do things differently if anything with their schooling. My husband and I own a place in Italy and will be taking our kids there for 1 year to immerse them in the language and the culture. They are still young. The little one is 3 and I am pretty sure it won’t even faze her to start speaking Italian. My concern is for the older one. She will be in 2nd grade (or maybe even 3rd grade if we postpone it a year) and will likely have some struggles. So I am curious if there would be anything you would be different and at what age you think your kids did the best with the immersion. To throw another bit of weirdness into the mix my kids were born in Japan and are predominately Japanese speakers and really ESL eventhough we are completely English at home. So I am really nervous, but I know it will be a great experience for them. Just curious on your thoughts for how old is too old for complete immersion. Bravo to you! Rene

  39. hi Gabrielle,

    I am very curious about French schools, especially for Americans.

    Do you have to pay for the school since you aren’t French citizen? Do schools require parent to be on some sort of visa?

    We currently reside in Thailand and for my kids to go to international school we pay tuition, but are required to show work permit as well as visa. This is not the case in France?

    The idea of living in France even for a year sounds lovely.

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