School Supplies in France

School supplies are a big deal here. The lists are long. And they’re detailed. Instead of listing something like “notebook”, they’ll specify dimensions, interior details, and color. Shopping for our school supplies took about twice as long as the back-to-school clothes shopping. I think we made 10 trips to 6 different stores before we gathered everything. It surprised me!

I took photos of some of the prettiest items. I love the colored pencils and the folders with the fabric closures. And I think the pencil cases are handsome. Something interesting: classic yellow No. 2 pencils aren’t really sold here. French students use pens more than pencils. Their standard pencils are grey HB pencils with no erasers on the end. And instead of buying them in boxes of 12, you purchase them 2 at a time (pre-sharpened).

Did you buy any pretty school supplies this year?

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

66 thoughts on “School Supplies in France”

  1. Here in Germany it’s the same way in elementary school. You get a list and it tells you what to buy. Some of those products you would be able to get cheaper from another brand and some families might not be able to afford that, so they get money from the state if they apply for it.


      1. Yes we have: “ciseaux à bouts ronds” (hmm round-ended scissors maybe ?)

        I agree cultural differences may be very sharp when you talk about supplies for school. My sons are too young now but my friend’s DD started school this year and we laughed a lot with the list (we are both French living in Canada), especially when the same word is not used for the same object (as your trombone for the paper clip) …

  2. I just read another post the other day titled “the dreaded school supply list”, I believe on My French Country Home, and she said it has been the hardest thing to get used to! It’s so funny to think I find a post on school supplies so fascinating, but really I have loved seeing all the differences.
    So Design Mom, what country next? We could just follow you around your travels and learn all sorts of stuff!
    Hope they’re first day went well :)

  3. What a loud house you will have with all those trombones!!! My two years of French merely scratched the surface, and aside from ordering a coke, I would be a lost little girl in France…a lost, but not thirsty, little girl.

  4. Loved this! Thanks for sharing. We don’t have any lists like these in Sweden. Anything needed for classes has to be provided by the school (apart from skates in winter ;) We still do a little school supply shopping, but it’s mostly for fun. You know, some pretty pencils or a nice pencil case.

    On another note, how are the children’s French coming along? I’m really curious! Kids do pick up languages so much easier than grownups…


  5. Those supplies are really pretty! Here in CT, we have very specific lists for school supplies too. Folders by color, binders by color, etc. It is frustrating when you have to make multiple trips to get everything. Because of Irene we aren’t starting school until Tuesday–that is if they actually get the power back on everywhere.

  6. Great post! When we travel in France and in Central Europe, I always haunt the librairie and papeterie shops for unique school supplies. Last trip to Mougins I purchased a small brass pencil sharpener that’s found a permanent place in my make-up bag, and I treasure the decorative round box of colored pencils I got during our first visit to Bratislava when we met our future daughter-in-law for the first time. Just used the blue pencil yesterday to mark the hemline for the grey gingham fabric that will skirt a small console table in our back hall. (Very country French, no?)

    I’ve also brought fun supplies back to the U.S. For elementary school teacher friends. They love tis stuff!

    Intrigued by the grey pencils… May have to effect that quirk for my own personal style. In high school I had a friend whose father owned a printing business. She printed her own brown-lined notebook paper and I truly coveted it.

  7. This is so precious! I miss all those careful details that the French love. When I lived in France I always thought it was interesting that the French don’t use pencils. And have you noticed that all their handwriting is the same! I’m enjoying hearing about your French adventures! PS – Hope you found those paperclips okay ; )

    1. We think that Americans also all write in the same fat round style!!!

      The French handwriting is the same bec. schools place huge weight on proper “ecriture” in the first 2 years of elementary school. My kids were drilled with lots of “attache” writing exercises. I had to buy a book to learn the French style for majuscules. Notebooks came home with red marks for the slightest infractions. That being said, the teachers’ notes were always beautifully written.

      In our computer age, some people say it’s so anachronistic and redundant to spend so much time teaching the kids to write in that old-fashioned flowery cursive style. But I do think it’s so worth preserving the skill to write beautifully – and, if I may say so, I’m so proud that my kids write beautifully.

      How are your kids coping with learning the French style cursive? Do the older kids who obviously didn’t get to learn the French cursive style, get penalised for their handwriting style?

    2. I do wonder how it is that some countries do produce a standard handwriting. Here in Australia there is definitely not a national hand, but I think I can easily identify certain other national handwriting: German, yes, Italian, yes, and most definitely the easiest, American.
      Don’t have enough familiarity with the French hand, but I would believe their ‘focus’ on things could lead to a standardised hand.
      Thanks for all the fun we have with you Gabrielle, good luck for all the kiddiwinks for their new school year.

  8. Wow — I hope that “10 trombones” was a typo!! My son needs a trombone this year, too. He had to choose between choir, strings, and band, and of course he had to pick the noisiest of the three options. Our supply lists (for a North Carolina charter school) were pretty detailed, too — I looked everywhere for Magic Rub erasers and finally had to buy them online. School supplies seem to be really getting out of hand; a lot of what they are asking parents to send in used to be supplied by the school. I wish the schools would provide all of the supplies, even if they had to raise taxes to do it. I spent hundreds of dollars on supplies for my two sons, and I can only imagine what a burden this is on disadvantaged families.

  9. I imagine school-supply shopping abroad allows you to slow down and enjoy the process more than you might at home. (I have an image of myself on my hands and knees among the folders at Target shrieking. “Where are the two-pocket orange folders WITH BRADS?!”)

  10. I’m about four years away from school supply shopping, but I have fond memories of all of the amazing school supplies that I bought when I went to school in Berlin. I’m thinking I’ll have to buy imports for the Babby, because oh, the beautiful colored pens and the little notebooks and leather pen cases and everything. So much nicer than the plastic stuff in the US!

  11. I’m happy to see that even the refined French folks – the ones I have high on a pedestal in my mind – even have a dose of human error in them……..

    That teacher used comic sans font!

  12. Wow, that supply list is something else. I grew up in Spain, and the school made arrangements with a bookstore nearby to stock all the supplies. So my mother would just hand the supply list to someone in the bookstore and get a ready-made packet of supplies. I do remember also that we only used pencils for math. We used pens and colored pencils a lot.

    I don’t know how it is in France, but in Spain there was no such thing as cursive writing. As long as kids could write legibly that was fine. I still can’t write cursive. When we moved to the US some of the teachers gave me a hard time about this – oh well.

    Best wishes on your French adventure! I came across your lovely blog via Google Reader – Recommended Items and of course added it to my RSS subscriptions. :)

  13. In England, all your stationary etc is provided in primary school but when you go to secondary school (when you’re 11, 6th grade equivilent I think?) you have to bring your own, I was so excited. I was in Italy the summer before I started and bought so many pretty things! I was the stationary queen.

  14. Our elementary school (in the US) has you bring no school supplies–no pencils, paper, notebooks, nothing. Everything the kids need is in the classrooms already. I think it is super nice, but I do kind of miss that back to school, school supply shopping experience!

  15. Do your children all have cartables to put their supplies in? I always loved fall in france with all the school kids in scarves and cartables. So much more chic than a sloppy backpack!

  16. What’s the problem with 10 trombones… there would be one for each of us… hahhahhahhhah!!!! Just kidding. I totally love and adore school supplies. Schools here do have list of supplies but they can’t be too prescriptive because there are such a variety of financial levels in the schools… so a notebook is a notebook and so on. I have to say when I see your list I am so glad my kids are at home and can share everything!!!

  17. That is awsome, very interesting the thing about the HB pencils. I live in Puerto Rico, and my list is as big as yours, my son is in a Laboratory School, is not public, is not private, is in between, so they ask for trombones(clips) too!!! hehe, although I really had a trumpet in my list for the band class. I even had to bring supplies for the classroom for the kids to share separate from the supplies of my boy. Ahh, I had to buy hand sanitizer too…Wish we have some of those stylish textile folders here!! Well, good luck in your back to school, very happy for you!!

  18. i guess quebec has taken a page out of france’s book because our supplies list was equally as detailed. we needed all sorts of duotangs in certain colours (2 red, 3 purple, one yellow etc…) and some had to be plastic and some regular – some with pockets, some without. then we needed a certain kind of pencil crayons (no crayola here please!) and extra packages of everything to be kept at school. and every single thing had to be labeled! every pencil, crayon, marker…everything. + i had to send her with two placemats and indoor shoes to be kept at school. and they require goggles for gym class! and this was for grade one! mon dieu!! i know my mother never did all this!! haha. vancouver is so laid back – quebec not so much.

  19. It’s so sweet! It reminds me of when we lived in Morocco and got similar lists from the kids’ school since they operated on a French system there. I learned so much French because of all the notes that got sent home and I never even studied the language! :-) I think you come to Denmark next! They didn’t give our kids any lists… they showed up with a cute pencil case and a lunch and everything else is provided. It’s fantastic! Plus kids start English in the 4th grade so my daughter loves being the smartest kid in that subject!

  20. In Ecuador, we also have very detailed school supply lists, I remember us going to different stores to get everything. Students use pencil only until 2nd grade and then are transition to pens (yes, we write in 3 different colors for topics, definitions and examples). I think it helps for when you are studying. Notebooks over there have to be extremely organized and legible, they are definitely not just for note taking; and we use lined or graph paper notebooks depending on the subject. I am trying to implement the same system for my son and his teachers here in the US are always commenting how organized and neat his notebooks are :)

  21. Ten trombones?? Now I feel guilty complaining about the 10 glue sticks I had to buy for my son’s kindergarten class (among other things). I am hoping trombones is french for something much smaller and less noisy, because wow.

  22. I love this post. I remember growing up in Switzerland and we had to get the ‘approved’ pencil cases in elementary school, those cases already included all the coloured pencils, pens, erasers, scissors, etc. It was great to get everything brand new every year.
    My daughter here in Canada just started school and for the first 4 years they supply everything – no need to run around ;).
    If you do move to Switzerland connect with me, maybe I can give you guys a couple of pointers?

  23. What a great post! I loved shopping for school supplies as a child, and I still love shopping for them. The French have some cool items! It’s funny, I don’t remember having school supply lists like now. I really think school supplies are rather pricey, unless you get them on sale, of course. It’s amazing to me how many items the children are responsible for…And here in the states, once school starts, each teacher sends them home with additional items they’ll need for each specific class!

    Are there sales on school supplies in France?

  24. At my son’s school, here in Louisiana, we get a very detailed list too. Or you can order a kit from the parent’s club and all of your supplies will be delivered your child’s classroom. I usually purchase them on my own because I really love to buy school supplies. There always seems to be that one thing on the list that I just can’t find. This year it was a package of white paper lunch bags (they use them for crafts and things). I could find them in every color but white.

  25. Ha ha, that reminds me a bit of Montessori school here in the States – I attended myself when I was a child, and the lists were so specific! Sadly, though, not so chic! I adore that fabric closure on the yellow notebook…I would love to use one as a journal for myself :) xo Laura

  26. I love these back to school supply images! I always adored starting fresh each school year and still get a thrill when I open a new notebook or package of pens. It truly is the little things!

  27. One of my favorite things on the list are the scissors (non-dangereurse). Good thing that they are specific about what type are appropriate in the classroom!

  28. and yes the notebooks are very organized & students write in cursive hand……….no scribbling or spelling mistakes allowed!………………and the transition to pens happens in standard 4:)

  29. A little piece of advice for next year’s rentrée:
    normally in France you can drop off the children’s school list at the local “maison de la presse” and come back the next day and pick up all of your items from the list. Huge time savior, especially when you have daughters like mine who tend to hesitate for 10 min over each pen.

  30. It’s so fun to read about how school shopping differs across borders. In Switzerland (or at least Zurich), all supplies (pens, paper, books, craft materials) are provided by the school. Children are asked to not bring their own supplies. Children do bring their own house shoes, swimsuit & towel (swim classes start in 1st grade), gym clothes, and a very specific ergonomic backpack, which mostly cost 150 francs or more (about $190 right now). I was so happy to find one for 50 francs, those not nearly as stylish as the others.

  31. I loved reading this!!! I too would love to see the complete (and translated, haha) list. School supply shopping was always my most favourite day of the year, and even through university I would spend hours choosing what I would buy. This, I think, was one of the main contributors in my becoming a teacher. You can’t really get away with loving a pack of rainbow coloured pencils as much as I do without some valid excuse!
    In Canberra, Australia, the students buy “Bookpacks.” The teachers write a list of supplies and send it to an allocated bookstore, and then the parents simply come to the store, pay the correct amount, and then the box of “goodies” is delivered to the school for the child to pick up on the first day of school. It’s a wonderful system that I truly like, as it allows me to be in control of the brands and amount of specific items. The only issue is, when an item is faulty (as the pencil sharpeners were this year), you’ve got not just one but 20+ kids with sharpeners that don’t work!

  32. Gabby – just a quick note – I was sending a colleague a few links to your recent “Back to School shopping posts”, but I had a hard time finding them. The hyperlinks in the upper right hand corner, under your “Back to Schoo…what I am thinking about” redirect to last year’s posts. You may (or may not) want to update these for the France 2011 posts. Thanks for such fabulous reading.

  33. What is the brand name of the gray HB pencils? Are they French?
    I’m doing props for Stowe Theatre Guild’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”
    & am looking for authentic French pencils or at least those that aren’t obviously
    American (yellow). Having a hard time researching what French pencils looked like in 1904!

    Your website is so beautiful. Congratulations!!

  34. Thats amazing. The pre-sharpened ones are like artist’s pencils.
    I can’t imagine writing in pen all the time. Although, penmanship does have the word ‘Pen’ in it! ha ha

    I would send you some #2’s if you would like XD

  35. I went to a French School in Canada and it was the same thing, love the notebooks does anyone know the brand name? I know we used Clairefontaine.

  36. The expanding folders are by Exacompta and they come in a wide range of colors with complimentary or contrasting straps. You can get them at any FNAC in France, but probably have to get them on-line here in the US. Hope that helps!

  37. Help! I am looking for a gift.
    I have been searching for a periodic table in french. Poster size and preferably antique looking. Nothing like that here in glendale, ca. I was hoping to decorate my classroom with one and kind of combing my language class with some different elements (no pun). Can you send me a link? You are doing great stuff here on this site.

  38. Hi Gabby! I’m an American raising my kids in Germany, and the detailed school supply lists surprised me as well. They don’t sell #2 pencils here either- only small packs of pencils, often with no erasers (just like in France). I’ll be stocking up when we visit the States this summer :-) . If you’re interested, you can see a pic of the school supply list and other items required for 1st Grade here- It also shows the German tradition of giving 1st Graders a Schultüte on their first day of school. Enjoy the rest of your summer in France!

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