Monday, 24 September 2012

French school : so far so good

I've been a bit remiss about writing my blog recently. It's just been hard to find time to write. I am definitely not lacking in inspiration but I am  lacking time at the moments I actually feel inspired!

There is a lot to write about, but this blog is not the correct forum to write about knee surgery and the such so I'll stick to what I know: my kids and living in France.

La rentrée was almost a month ago now and I'm pleased to say that both kids have adapted well. Back to school night was last week, although in France it's not called that and in the case of Max's school it was on Saturday morning. In both cases, I was pleased to see how seriously education is taken in France and how open the teachers seem on a personal level and in terms of curriculum, although they do have certain administrative obligations which they too find too stringent.

Suzanne actually has two teachers, both of whom are youngish (about my age). There were two things that surprised me as I sat in my daughter's undersized desk in the front row of her classroom, besides the fact of how crowded it was! : parents are worried and parents are controlling. I'm not saying I'm not either of those things, but I'm not one of THOSE parents. I really felt good about handing my little girl over to these two highly capable teachers, even in France. In fact, I was almost shocked when parents were actually concerned that there were 2 teachers! And I loved Mme B's   to the parent who asked WHY she didn't work a full week. I could tell she wanted to say it's none of your damn business but she didn't. The Friday teacher Mme G will be teaching the kids English as part of the curriculum so I''ve already expressed my interest.

In terms of bilingual reading and writing, after much thought and discussion with friends, we've given our daughter's written education to French first in order not to confuse her. I was reassured in our decision when Mme B said that in her experience, once the kids can decode one written language, they use the same tools to figure out another. The other bilingual parent in the class asked the question, not me. Because, unlike us, he's not as much as a stickler for the OPOL rule as we are in our family. So I felt good. I also felt overwhelmed by what the kids have on the curriculum this year: geometry, a 3 week intensive swimming course, reading and writing. And also by what they have on their curriculum in only a limited way: music and art. In France, the elementary teacher does everything : art, reading, math, name it! That's why I'm so glad Suzanne has 2 teachers. AT good old Nishuane School, we had specialized teachers which was both enriching for us and also gave us a break from our main teacher. The real challenge will come when Suzanne has mastered reading in French. And then I begin to teach her English and American history which she is definitely lacking in.

She was perusing  a book on MLK in her bedroom the other night when I heard her call out, "Mommy, is Obama dead?" At which point I had to explain to her the importance of MLK, Rosa Parks and segregation. When I realized how much a part of American and not French history that is, I felt a bit overwhelmed...

Max's integration has also been a success, although he told me he hit someone and was punished. His first day reminded me a lot of Suzanne's : he sauntered into class and settled in while watching the other kids cry just as Suzanne had. When we asked why he didn't cry, his response was the same as Suzanne's when she first started school : because I'm big. I take this as a huge parenting success. It shows that we've installed enough self-confidence and trust in our kids that they know there is nothing to worry about because they trust us.

He also told me his Mr. Potato Head looked like his teacher...oops. for Max, the transition from crèche to school was made easy by the fact that his best friends have come with him. His teacher has already said that they are inseparable, which is both good and bad as they tend to draw each other into naughty-ville.

Max also has two teachers which is great, especially since she can bring a little more kindness compared to Mr. Potato Head. Both teachers have a similar approach which is interesting as an American. They are both open to my participation in class, reading stories or something. And the teacher also said Max continues to use American grammar when speaking French, which I guess I've grown immune to at this point.

From the very start, the goal of la maternelle is to prepare the children for literacy in every sense. Even their art projects are geared at teaching them how to draw their circles correctly so they can later write their letters correctly. This is also where the French education system gets to me. The kids do not have enough creative freedom or space for personal expression because everything has a purpose. On the other hand, they are learning a lot right from the start.

So far so good...


Anonymous said...

I love reading your blog. We are a bilingual family from Canada living here in Pas-de-Calais. Our two children just started maternelle this September and the transition has been interesting...As you say in your post, I agree that I don't think there is enough creativity in the class. The other thing I noticed was that there seems to be a lot of yelling, something which we are not used to in Canada. Thanks again for the blog, whenever I am having a hard time and missing home, it's nice to see the perspective of another mom in the area. Take care of that knee :)

Reb said...

Thanks for your comment! Good luck with maternelle...this whole French thing isn't easy, no matter how long you live here!

cmoi said...

I haven't looked in for a while, but your experiences always resonate true to life! I remember when I put my oldest son into CP (he's in 6ième now!!) and wondered when I should start teaching him to read English - I was scared he was going to get "contaminated" by too much French! The teacher very wisely told me: he will be able to read French by Christmas, he will read English by New Years. I was skeptical, but took the hint, and you know what? He could read BOTH French and English by Christmas, I never had to teach him at all! It is really magical!OF course English is more of an effort, if he has a choice he reads in French, what can you do, he lives here. But my parents send him US magazines and I read out loud from English books until he gets interested and wants to finish on his own. His little brother is actually more comfortable in English, but every kid is different, even the bilingual ones! You just keep the English books around and wait for the magic to operate! PAssing on lessons in US history takes more of an effort on our, the U.S. parent's part, but I keep a U.S. calendar in the kitchen and whenever it's Washington's Birthday or MLK day or the 4th of July etc, we have a talk about it during a meal, and as the years go by it is satisfying to see some of it actually sinks in and sticks. I'm sure you'll do great!

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