Living in France has been quite an experience for me. I have been able to experience a different culture, language, people — it’s been incredible. I wouldn’t change it for the world. One major thing that living here has opened my eyes to is the differences between the countries – France & America. No country is perfect, absolutely not. And I’m not here to trash either of them. I actually love them both. I did think it would be interesting to take note of the differences and let you make of it what you will. 🙂
Since that can cover a lot of ground, I thought I would start with the difference between French and American schools. My older son, who is 7 years old, has been going to French school since he was three. He has spent 1 semester in American Kindergarten and a couple months in an American preschool. Other than that, I don’t have a ton of experience with the American school system as a mother. So what I write here will be mostly my experiences with a French school & my opinion on the subject.
EXPERIENCE: My kids go to school four days a week for 3 hours in the morning starting at 9:00 am. They have a lunch break at 12:00 pm for two hours. We return to school at 1:30 so that my little guy can get ready for his nap at school but there is an option to return at 2:00. They continue school until 5:00 pm. They have a two-week break every 6 weeks, in October, December, Feb/March and April/May. Then they also have two months for summer (School is the beginning of September to the beginning of July).
They never have school on Wednesdays but will start having school Wednesday mornings next year (new law). Since sports/extracurricular activities and school are entirely separate here in France, the majority of French families take this time to involve their kids in other things. There are no after-school sports/activities that I am aware of here (although in other cities I know they have them). My son plays basketball and has practice Wednesday morning for an hour and a half and a game on Saturday. That’s it. My younger one plays as well but only has practice Saturday morning for an hour.
OPINION: I don’t particularly love the daily schedule. I have to either put my kids in school for eight hours a day (which is a lot for a 3 year old!) or interrupt my day to go get them for a couple hours. However, it is actually kind of neat that there is an option. I mean, I love that we can still have that time to have lunch together and yet they still get to be in school learning & with their friends. I don’t know if maybe France isn’t a very active or busy country (it sure seems like it) but I like that the schedules aren’t chaotic. You don’t often see families racing from one activity to the next. They take family time and meal time very seriously here and make efforts to make sure they have them. I think that’s rather cool.
I love the two weeks off every 6 weeks. It’s just enough to take some time, relax, regroup, and get ready to conquer it all again. Personally, it’s great for everyone. I’m sure it’s a ton harder if you work full time, but they do have a lot of activities available during those weeks.
Food at a French School
EXPERIENCE: Parents have the options to keep their kid in school all day for lunch which is called “cantine” or pick them up and eat at home. You cannot pack a lunch for your child. It depends on the city, but where we live now it costs 2,50€ for a cantine lunch (approximately $3.45). However, the lunch consists of a full 3-course meal with meat, vegetables, side dishes and a dessert which is usually fresh fruit or yogurt. Once a month they get fries and once a month they get something that I would actually consider a dessert.
OPINION: I love the food options here. Absolutely love it. My kids eat things at school that I would never think to prepare at home. And they eat it! They have had lamb, fish, green beans, vegetable soup, chicken, duck. It’s really great! I love that the French take food seriously. In fact, ketchup isn’t in schools here because they feel like it “hides the true flavor of the food.” I know, us Americans are thinking “well, ya, that’s the point!” But they are truly making an effort here to expose their kids to different kinds of food and actually teach them to enjoy it, not just nuggets, burgers, and pizzas on a weekly rotation.
EXPERIENCE: Well, this is at least what I have experienced. They do not do class parties here like in America. They celebrate the seasons and holidays but incorporating it into the learning schedule. For example, for April Fools Day called “Poisson d’avril” here (April Fish translated) they memorized a poem. Same for spring arriving. For Valentine’s Day I sent my kids with nothing to school (we don’t really do V’day personally) and he came back with nothing. Didn’t even mention it. For Christmas, no shows, no class parties, no desserts and candies. Just some fun pictures & lessons incorporating ‘Le Pere Noel.’
OPINION: I also LOVE this too. I think Americans have taken holidays over the top. I’m not a super celebrator to begin with, but 100 days of school, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, Valentine’s Day, Halloween… etc. etc. etc! How do parents keep up? I don’t know what it is with Americans taking everything over the top, but I personally prefer a more relaxed approach to these types of things.
EXPERIENCE: When my son was in Kindergarten in America I remember there was a little awards ceremony for the students. I was so proud because they said that my little dude was getting an award! Gosh, I’m so proud, he’s such a good little student. Then, come to find out, every student gets an award at some point in the year. It has nothing to do with what they’re doing in school. Um, okay. In French school, when my 3-year-old or another kid in his class does something they’re proud of and brings it to the teacher, the teacher says, “Very nicely done. You did a good job.” There’s no “WOW!! Super!! You’re so talented!! Amazing!!” They are encouraged, but it’s not over the top.
OPINION: I love this! I don’t know why we feel like we have to give every kid an award for just showing up to school, but it’s a little much. Now, I do understand that kids have different talents in different areas. One might have more of a math mind and one might be really artistic. Competing for the same award would be unfair depending on the award. But maybe offer a variety of awards that would suit many personality types but still have them limited so they have to be earned. Just a thought. It’s okay to let our kids experience not winning at everything because heck, that’s life.
EXPERIENCE: So far this year they are learning to read and memorizing different poems and such. They do quite a bit of writing as well and start off writing in cursive. They have a very specific way to write here. As far as math goes, they are adding two columns by putting the numbers side by side. He learned to add the same way I did by putting the numbers on top of each other and carrying over the number, etc. etc. They have started learning English a little bit in class but not a ton.
OPINION: I don’t have much of an opinion here because I don’t have much to compare it to. It doesn’t seem all that advanced to me, but I feel like he is definitely learning things. He can read in French and English now although the English part we did at home. That is one thing I really wish we did in America. I really wish we taught our children a second language from a young age. It’s such a shame that Americans are so far behind in the ‘learning another language’ game.
Here are some snap shots of his school work.
Another difference that I feel like I have seen on an academic level is that here they have more of an international mindset. They are learning about Africa and its music and culture. I absolutely love exposing my kids to new things like that to show them what an amazing world we live in. They also have studied painting (like the picture above) and visiting the artist’s paintings that was displayed at the city hall. My son loved it!
Well, sheesh, that’s a lot of info! All in all, so far I prefer the French school system. There are things that I don’t prefer, the long days for example, but it’s lovely only rushing to school four days a week. Seriously, that day off really makes a difference! I also really do love the vacations they get. It’s refreshing and when we’re done we’re both ready to get back into the swing of things and go hard in school!
I would really love to hear your thoughts, questions, comments! Leave it in the comments below, I always answer! I would also love to hear your experiences with your school, whether it’s American, French or otherwise. We can always learn from each other!