Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Routines...Settling in after La Rentree - Life in France for Expat kids

Back to School - What does daily life look like for us 
Place du Palais, Bordeaux
La Rentree (or Back to School) in France was September 1st.  We have now just finished 2 weeks of school, new schedules, new teachers and new activities.  It's also back to work for most parents after having some summer time off.

First for my oldest - She started 3eme (9th grade-US) this year. This is an important year in French schools.  It is the last year of middle school (or college in French) and at the end of this year there is a National exam called the Brevet.  What is the Brevet? - it's an assessment of knowledge exam.  This exam helps decide on which track or section one studies in high school.  It's important to do your best to be placed in the track or section that you want or the one that will prepare you the most for your future.  During this year, we will also decide if she stays at her current school to enter the Lycee or changes high schools for a school that might have a better fit for what she wants to study.  As a bilingual student, I'm looking for at least a lycee that has a European Section - in English or an Advanced English section, An International Baccalaureate American program is an option too.  All of these options, I'll share more on as we start our process later this year.  For now, it's just important to know that even though it's her last year in middle school it's an important one.

Juggling a schedule which begins at 8am almost everyday and ends between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm, Her classes this year include: French, Math, History/Geography/Civics, Science(Biology& Earth), Physics, Advanced English, European Section-Anglophone Culture, Spanish, Italian, Technology, Music & Physical Education. This means there is not a lot of time for extra activities.  Like the States, it's important that kids do participate in some extracurricular activity. There are no clubs or school sponsored activities but their are many associations in town which offer lots of choices.  Most important also in France is to have continued with at least one activity for several years.  She's my dancer (having danced since she was 2.5 years old - every year).  She opted this year to stop ballet (or Classique in French) and focus on more modern dancing.  She is taking a Ragga dance class (modern dancing to music which has roots in Jamaican & reggae) for 2 hours each week.  She will also be trying Rock climbing. (She's my daredevil!) once a week.

For my middle daughter, she is adjusting to her new 6eme (6th grade-US) schedule.  Like the United States it's the first year that she changes classes and teachers.Her classes also do not all meet everyday or have the same amount of time dedicated to each.  So each day is different.   Her days, like her sisters for the most part begin at 8am and end around 4 pm.  Like all French children, Wednesday is also a half-day.  For her the adjustment has been planning ahead and understanding that what may seem like a lot of homework for one night, is actually for 2 or 3 nights. Similar to US schools, she is placed on the equivalent of a team (here they call it a class) where most all the kids have the same teachers and similar schedules with the exception of  which foreign languages and which level one takes in English (All students are required to take English in France).  Her classes are French, Math, History/Geography, Science (Bio/Earth), Advanced English, German, Art, Technology, Music, & Physical Education.

She's my tallest daughter, now almost taller than me.  (As of this post, I can still claim a couple fingers width in height over her).  Due to the fact that she grows so fast, she's often found herself uncoordinated and even though she has tried several different sports - gymnastics, circus class, ballet & last year horseback riding - she's never cared for them and it's not been quick for her to learn and master. In essence over the years, she has veered more and more away from sport activities. Keeping in mind that she needs to find her niche, we talked about the various choices she had for activities.  After much discussion - she opted for a modern street jazz class at a new dance studio that specializes in more modern types of dances (a different studio than her sister).  The other night was her exploration class to see if she liked. I was pleased and happy that she loved it!  So Friday nights, for an hour, she will be dancing.
My youngest daughter is reveling in the fact that she is the only one of my three in Elementary school.  For her this means there is no older sister there telling her "what to do" or "how to act".  She's feeling very independent as she's beginning CE2 (3rd grade-US).  Her day begins at 8:30 am and ends at 4:15pm.  There has been a little change in the school hours this year and she now ends at 4:15 pm instead of 4:30 pm.  Additionally, as of last year with educational reform, the town added educational workshops to their day.  Theses workshops are optional, but are financially supported by the town and give the children explorations to many different enrichment topics, including - The Arts, Sciences, Civics/Citizen, Health/Well being, Languages, & Constructing/Building.  The kids rotate through these workshops, which meet 2 hours/week throughout the year.  I think the hardest thing for me this year is the change in pick up time - there is something about 15 minutes earlier that is just harder for my mind to wrap around.  Her day includes French, Math, Science and History alternated, English (twice a week), and art/music once a week.  All classes are taught by her teacher.  As I said in an earlier post - she actually has 2 teachers - the director and another teacher who teaches 2 days/week (Allowing for the director to have administrative duties).  

For my youngest, her activity this year will be swimming lessons.  After many years of trying to get her into swimming lessons here in Pessac (Our local pool always has a wait list!!).  I found a new place with a small pool that does small group lessons - perfect for her to learn her strokes and work on techniques.  Ironically, she has always been comfortable in the water (I think it's just in her blood and the fact that since being an infant - we always taken vacation near or on the water.) and the past year or so has done her version of the "dogie paddle" and getting more and more confident about jumping in.  She's had 2 lessons so far and enjoys the small group of 6 students.  I can breathe easier now knowing that my youngest finally is going to know how to swim.  This is an important life activity for me and one that I am thrilled that is finally working out for her.  Unfortunately, most activities for elementary age children are on Wednesday afternoons - with swimming in the middle of the afternoon and my oldest having a dance class late in the afternoon - she will probably only be doing swimming lessons this year. However, over school breaks, there are often mini-workshops where she can explore additional activities.
In France, children are not "overbooked" with activities.  There is a cultural appreciation for "downtime".  The French value free time where children can rest and "do nothing".  A time to recuperate, rejuvenate and relax. School is the priority for children but also time to rest. I like the fact that balance is appreciated here.  When we first moved here and my girls were doing 2 or 3 activities each - like they were use to in the States, I remember many French women asking me "Is it too much" - "When do they rest", "Aren't they tired after school?".  Needles to say, as we begin our 5th year here - I have come to appreciate the balance and sometimes wonder why in American - we seemed "in a hurry" to have our children experience everything so young.  (But that is a post for another time...)

For me in the midst of it all - I'm grateful to be working part-time as a guide and growing this blog to be able to share more of our life here and expat life in this part of France. I, like many other adults am trying to balance my life with being a mom of 3 girls.  Being in my later 40's, I am also aware that its important to take care of myself and to also exercise to stay healthy. Last year, I began a new life living on my own and restarting and it felt good.  This year,  I will be adding more exercise to my routine beginning with playing tennis once a week and I'm also fitting in an aqua-aerobic/aqua-bike class once a week. My goal is to find balance between it all.

Additionally, I wanted to share that part of starting the new year included remodeling my living area in my home.  I needed more seating for friends and additionally, as I only have 3 bedrooms, I wanted a sofa bed for company.  This re-organization also created a beautiful reading corner under my stairs complete with an office nook for my printer/laptop.  This area has turned into a wonderful place for the girls and myself to relax and just hang out together. There is plenty of space to stretch out and relax.

The reading nook has become a great addition too - as it's across the room from the main seating area and allows for an individual to "get away" from the television or noise on the other side of the room, but also be comfortable.  I'm loving the "new" room and it feels great to start the year feeling more comfortable in our space. 

So tomorrow we begin week three - and the new routine for all of some ways it's similar to how our life would have been in the States, but at the same time it's a different lifestyle.  I hope this gives you, my readers, a sense of our days here and life in general with kids in France.  Happy end of the weekend to everyone!!  For those with school-age children, who are back to school - here's to a new school year and new experience for everyone!


  1. Got here through Linked-In. What a lovely blog entry about life in France with your kids! As the Canadian father of two daughters now grown raised in Mexico, I can appreciate what you are doing there and how interesting/different/frustrating/rewarding it can be to be a foreigner learning the ropes! Good luck to you and the girls!!

  2. This was so interesting to learn in more detail about schools in France and about your daughters' new year. I always look forward to reading your blog and have to wait until I have plenty of time to enjoy it - it's fun to "travel" with you. Thank you and here's to a successful school year!


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