School in France

french school notebook red elephant

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.

91 thoughts on “School in France”

  1. I like it. I taught for nine years, and not that you need my approval or anything, but your plan is well thought out and I totally agree. French and Friends are just as important as grammar if not more:).

  2. I don’t have teaching credentials, only parenting. But it seems you’re doing a great thing. To be in France for a year and not give the kids the opportunity to truly immerse seems a shame — it’s great they get to experience French school, I’m sure I’d take the same path if it were my son.

  3. Yahoo for immersion! Great choice. The kids will pick up French so quickly, it will just knock your socks off. Now how ’bout your French, dear? Any plans for immersion or a tutor of some kind? I love these *practical* posts. Keep on, keepin’ on.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You have no idea how homesick I feel for France. I would love to have this opportunity for my kids (and–let’s face it–ME)

  5. Great idea! For some Europeans it is weird to see the American Homeschool idea…I’m sure the students learn a lot if the material is good and the parents put a lot of work in it. But I still think that (only my opinion and I do not want to criticise anybody!) being in School with other kids has other merits. And I also think that your children will learn French much faster this way. And just think about the friends they’ll make and the storiess they have to tell. Ohhh, enjoy!

  6. I went to school in France as a young adult and loved it too, I think you are super to do this and having traveled a fair bit myself and lived in France a couple of times, I believe you chose a super spot for this year! I am hoping to do the same as I am a teacher and once my child is older, would love her to have a similar experience! I also speak French so that would help!
    Gabrielle, Thanks for your openess and sharing your life with us! I am inspired every day reading your posts so keep that in mind today!
    All the best (maybe you can do a post on how to begin a blog as I am thinking of doing one too)!!

  7. Sounds like a fabulous plan! As a teacher, I am frequently stunned by foreign students who arrive at our local school not speaking a word of English, and within a remarkably short time, are conversing easily with their friends. A few years ago, a young 5th grader from Japan arrived one October day. I saw him off and on for a few months, and watched him make slow but steady progress. Then I went off to a different assignment and didn’t see him again until May. And there he was, in the middle of a group of laughing, cavorting eleven-year-olds, giving them all instructions for a game they were making up -yes, in English.

  8. How exciting to hear about this. I always wondered what it would be like to move with school age kids to a new country. Your children must be so well adjusted and smart to handle it – so cool to hear about all this. Are any of them homesick or going through an adjustment period? I know that gets into personal family details that you may not be willing to share….but you are making it look too easy! I think that a huge percentage of your readers are plotting moves now….me included! Good luck, it is great to hear that all is so well and fun to follow along. Olive’s room is adorable – those elephants!

  9. Bravo for you! Educational decisions can be tough, and everyone else seems to have their opinion :) I’m sure your kids will do great.

  10. Wow! I don’t really know you or your kids, but I find myself feeling anxious and excited for them too. I don’t know why…but I thought they could use a couple extra prayers today and this week as they make this adjustment. So, we’ll be thinking and praying for you and your kiddos! What a week! I can’t wait to hear about their stories and experiences. I really wish my family had done something like this when I was growing up. Can’t wait for the next post! Way to go Blairs!

  11. I think the only way to truly understand any language is to be fully immersed in it…I took french in school for 8 years and I am supposed to be fluent as I have my grade 12 equivalency. I couldn’t carry on a conversation en francais to save my life. Its great to see that your kids are SO excited about this oppoortunity. I can’t wait to read more about your life across the pond:)

  12. Ah, mercredi libéré ! It’s a good break from the long days.

    The school day is longer here. 8h45 to 17h00 for my kids (in maternelle and primaire) and they don’t stay for before or after school care! My kids go to a Catholic school too and I think they are similar throughout France – no uniforms, no nuns – very different from my all-girl Catholic school experience in FLA. I love that they can come home for lunch too (they don’t often. I don’t think that is an option stateside.

    I am happy that your kids are so excited to immerse themselves in the French culture. Crossing my fingers for a good “rentrée” for your little ones :)

  13. I can’t wait to hear about the lunches! My son refuses to eat the food at his school, and I can’t say I blame him. America needs to step it up a few notches.
    I live in PA and our school district has early dismissal every Wednesday after lunch. (For elementary school.) There aren’t any “in service” days because of it.

  14. I tutored a family of Japanese school kids for almost 5 years when they came over to work (Here in the states.) It was hard for them, sometimes more than others, but it honestly didn’t take too long for them to learn enough to communicate fairly well. After a few months they could get across almost any point they wanted and after a year my main priority was helping them with their home work and not so much the language. (BTW, my husband speaks Japanese but I don’t.) I would suggest still getting a tutor for an hour or two a week. That way they can have someone to ask questions to (cultural, grammar, knows the area, etc.) It seems like your kids must be outgoing which will be their strongest point in learning and fitting in. How Fun!

  15. Thanks so much for your Year In France posts! I am really enjoying every one of them. It’s so exciting to see what new adventures your family will have each day, and is giving me some ideas of my own about moving abroad for a while. It seems like the hardest part is just to DO it!

  16. I think that it’s great that you are immersing your kids in French schools. Although it will be difficult at times, especially for the older kids, it is the best way for them to make friends and experience life in France. And they are lucky to have each other. I had the opportunity to put my French speaking son in a completely English speaking camp in the States. Within a month his French was gone and he was speaking English without an accent. Sponges they are! Oh and French school lunches are so wonderful compared to school lunches in the States. They have real sit down meals with silverware and cloth napkins and bread baskets.

    I just recommend getting to know your teachers. Also, the French are very big on “adaptation”, which means letting your children take the time they need to adjust. It is common to let them stay for just half-days or a bit more at a time until they are ready for a full day.

  17. What a rich experience you are providing for them! I think it’s a thoughtful plan. I think they are brave to go to school when they are just learning the language! Kudos!

  18. I love your “relax and enjoy” attitude. Really a marvelous way to learn and grow. Enjoy laughing together at the “faux pas!”
    Beautiful, shared experiences that will bind you all forever. APPLAUSE!!!

  19. Hope they are loving their first days! I do have a practical question which is not related to schooling: I noticed Ralph is wearing braces, and as a mother who takes her son to the ortho every 6 weeks, I was wondering how you were handling this detail. Have you found an ortho in France, or will you just leave them on and tend to them when you return? Just curious!

  20. I think this is so exciting! I love your plan and I love that you have options. It doesn’t hurt that the Blair kids ROCK and are so blessed to have supportive, loving parents at home. I look forward to hearing all about their school adventures (and I especially anticipate that school food post!)

  21. Your kids will learn a second language in a jiffy! I moved to the US when I was 9-years-old and learned English well enough to translate for my parents in THREE months. Immersion is the best way to learn another tongue. Good luck. I’m incredibly jealous.

  22. we lived in Florence, Italy for 2 years and my kids went not knowing any Italian and the nuns didn’t speak any English and my kids survived! But if the lunches in France are anything like what my kids had, buon apetito! so healthy and good. BTW, the reason I started following this fabulous blog is because I told my cousin we were planning to move to Paris in a couple years, your blog has been and will be a huge help! I can’t wait to get over there, I loved living in Europe.

  23. Again, your timing is fantastic. I have a 9th grader, and there is no way that I would be able to have a laissez-faire attitude about grades when they go on his high school transcript which affects basically EVERYTHING in his future. Your kids are there at the perfect time in their schooling! Pat yourself on the back : )

  24. I was actually hoping for a schools post. I was just wondering the other day about what your schooling plans were. I can’t wait to hear more. This whole experience is completely foreign and so fascinating for me.

  25. Gabby, I only found your blog last week and each day since I have been growing increasingly jealous of your year in Paris! Thank you for all the details. I am living vicariously through you and your family. All the best to the kids as they start school!

  26. The fact that you’re children are excited and not concerned about going to a new school… let alone a new school where they don’t speak the language…says bunches about you and Ben Blair as parents!!!
    When I worked in kindergarten we would get little ones who didn’t speak a work of English. Within a month or two they were fluent and were teaching English to there family at home. Children are amazing that way! Little sponges I tell you!
    Do you or Ben Blair speak French? Did he serve his mission in France? My husband has been asking me (every single day ;D) to ask you about your new ward at church. How far is it and is it a branch or ward?
    We too are enjoying your stories and thank you for sharing!!

  27. What an incredible experience for you and your children! I am so excited for them – your whole family is going to grow so much from this year abroad and it is great to read more about your hopes and expectations. :)

  28. Yeay Blair kids! I’m nervous for them. But it sounds like us adults will be the nervous ones and the kiddos will jump in with both feet. Oui Oui!


  29. This is so awesome! Your kids are most certainly going to look back at this time as one of the very best of their lives, no doubt. They will pick the language up faster than you might expect. I grew up in Canada (in a very bilingual part) with English as my mother tongue. I remember that first day of entering a french immersion school when I was 5. It only took a couple of weeks (according to my mum) before French came to me as easy as English. Bottom line: The Blair kids are going to be GREAT!

    Bonne chances!

  30. I think you have the best approach: total immersion with only friends, fun and French in mind. I am SO looking forward to your post on the French school ‘cantine’ because I know you are going to be amazed by it (the four courses, the cheese course etc) but know, the French are so unimpressed with the standard of food in schools, those that who can will still collect their children and take them home for lunch… especially in maternelle .. but that is also about the noise factor because they start at 3 years old here.. though my 3-year old loves it! But he loves food! All food! (especially the cheese, even blue ; )

  31. I realized that I was holding my breath throughout this entire post, wanting everything to be OK for your kids :) I love the immersion idea – I think this is going to be a wonderful experience for all of you and having K12 as a backup is the best of both worlds. Cheers to the whole family!

  32. It sounds like the perfect plan. We are also having dilemmas of where to enroll our daughter. I speak Spanish as a first language, my husband is from South Africa so he speaks English and we live in Brazil. We need a place where we can accommodate all those languages and needs. We are still looking, good thing we have time.

  33. What great thinking on this — I really appreciate your sharing the thought process and we’re in a similar spot ourselves with a move to Germany next year. For us, German schools, Department of Defense schools, or K12. After reading your post (and considering how important it is that we adjust our own expectations with regards to schooling and the 2 years we’ll be abroad), I think we’ll consider German schools more seriously. (and in France, as I recall, don’t they also have school on some Saturdays since they are off on Wednesdays? So unusual!)

    1. I attended schools in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and have to say: they are excellent schools and you should have no qualms about sending your kids. They are more rigorous than American schools, but provide so many benefits and life lessons! And there is no better way to immerse them in a language.

  34. Sounds scary and exciting! My favorites. I have always had wanderlust, and have lived abroad 4 times (as a child, in high school, in college, as a new mother). I am aching to make a big move after reading your post.

  35. I was curious about the school thing – I’m surprised they’re going to a Catholic school – not that I’m questioning your judgement! I’ve always experienced Catholic’s and LDS’ as not being really keen on each other (from my Catholic point of view). Sounds like the schools are quite a bit different than Catholic schools in the states.

    I’ve been curious too about how you’re dealing with church while you’re there, so I hope you’ll post about that sometime too.

  36. Hello! Awesome decision! we are anglophone at home and have always sent our kids to the french school in Quebec (when we were at home in Canada) and now while we are in Switzerland they are in the french school here as well. With each of our three kids, the first four months entering a francophone school was always hardest, and then they start to understand everything better, and by the end of the first year of school, they amaze us with their french!! Now here in Switzerland, we LOVE the Wednesdays off, and we totally feel that the day off mid week has helped us immensely with the transition to both a new country and school. The kids really love the break. They are also getting german classes in school twice a week and the speed at which they pick it up is awesome! Languages are so much easier when you’re younger!! There will be hard days, for sure, but it’s SO worth it!
    p.s. love that you’re in this time zone now, and I get your posts earlier in the day! : )

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