La Rentrée: A Tale of Two Schools

La rentrée has arrived: today marked the first day back to school for the vast majority of French students. My two oldest children went to school for the first time ever, since last year we homeschooled my daughter for kindergarten and my son was too young to attend. Here in France, however, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for my children to be immersed in French, make friends, and experience school in another country. Here's how I enrolled them for a month and how the first day went:

  A French high school entrance

A French high school entrance

My daughter is enrolled in a private Catholic school because my former host mom is an administrator there and she was able to get us permission to attend. Even so, I had to provide vaccination records (the French government is mostly concerned with DTP), proof of health insurance, and a copy of her passport along with the enrollment paperwork. 

  An elementary classroom in the Catholic school

An elementary classroom in the Catholic school

With more than 30 children already enrolled in the  youngest level (petite section) of the Catholic preschool, there was no room for my three-year-old son. This didn't surprise me--I know preschool admission is competitive in France with virtually all mamas working at least part-time, and I understand that the school wasn't willing to reserve a place for a student who would only be present a few weeks. Therefore, I looked into private options such as Montessori schools, but the enrollment fees were staggering and didn't take into account that my son would  only attend for a month. Thankfully, our neighbors recommended the local public school, and the principal was extremely welcoming. All I needed to do was take my son's vaccination records (just DTP needed) and his passport to the local marie (neighborhood town hall). Normally you'd also need proof of residency (such as an electric bill) for local public school enrollment, but when I explained our one-month rental situation and our hopes for immersion, the clerk begrudgingly waived this requirement--thank goodness!

Yesterday afternoon we were given a tour of the Catholic school along with other new students, followed by juice and Haribo candy for le goûter (kidssnack time at 4:30pm). Then today, at la rentrée, the primary-level students assembled in the school courtyard and the principal called them by name to depart with their teacher. (I noticed that American-style backpacks are an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional rectangular cartable.) 

  French reading and writing posters In the classroom to support  alphabétisation 

French reading and writing posters In the classroom to support alphabétisation 

At 11:30am, parents return and pick up their child for a two-hour lunch break! Some children are demi-pensionnaires, meaning they stay for lunch in the cantine (cafeteria), but most go home. Honesty, those two hours flew by with walking to and from school and eating a multi-course, home-cooked lunch as much of the French do, but it was definitely nice to re-connect with my daughter and see her morning went. (I may buy her a pack of meal tickets, though, so she can experience the reputedly decent French school meals and spend more time with potential friends. Friends won't be a challenge, though--she was already hugging a female classmate goodbye and greeting others in the street after school.)

My daughter says they spent their class time organizing their supplies, preparing their individual hallway coatrack stations, and coloring. Frankly, this isn't an impressive list for the time spent at school--with the two-hour lunch, the school day goes until 4:30pm. In contrast, I have to admit here that I love how homeschooling is so much more efficient than group schooling--it's never rushed, allows you to jump into learning right away, and doesn't require nearly the same amount of time to establish routines. Nonetheless, we appreciate the chance to attend school for this month in France!

  The  carnet  contains useful personal student info for the teacher  

The carnet contains useful personal student info for the teacher  

Each day, my daughter will bring home her school-issued carnet de liaison containing messages from her teacher for me, or vice versa. It also contains parental forms for tardies, absences, and early dismissal. As a former teacher I'm impressed by the practicality of this notebook!

  The French  carnet de liaison  to support communication between the child's teacher and parents  

The French carnet de liaison to support communication between the child's teacher and parents 

  Late passes to explain a child's tardies

Late passes to explain a child's tardies

My son's preschool goes to 4:30pm as well, but I don't think I'll require him to attend in the afternoons if he seems tired or overwhelmed. Today he seemed glad for the experience, telling me (in English) all about a story they read and music they heard. I was glad he could tell me about the story in detail--it proves he's understanding and enjoying the language immersion. And after hearing him tell about a fellow classmate who threw up, I made sure he washed his hands before le goûter

  A French school courtyard--mostly    concrete, with a small play structure for the preschoolers

A French school courtyard--mostly concrete, with a small play structure for the preschoolers

For more than a century, elementary-age French students have not had school on Wednesdays, but a new law went into effect in 2014 requiring a five-day academic week. (For more about the cult-like status of Wednesdays for children in France, read this article from The Economist.) However, my daughter has Wednesdays off because her private school is allowed to keep the traditional schedule. My son, on the other hand, has preschool Wednesday mornings--but I'll probably keep him home on Wednesdays so we can have a family day together to explore the cultural offerings of this city while we're here.

How did your family's rentrée go? Have you ever attended school in a country other than your home country?