Questions and answers from Workshop

Would like to know options open to child in the French system at the maternelle level? What are the chances of eating lunch at the maternelle if you do not work? b) How does the school accommodate you if your child is ADHD.

J.B: a) Would like to know options open to child in the French system at the maternelle level? What are the chances of eating lunch at the maternelle if you do not work? b) How does the school accommodate you if your child is ADHD.

a) PUBLIC SCHOOLS provide a lunchroom for students, le cantine in French. If you're thinking about sending a young children to the cantine, remember that the lunch break lasts one and a half to two hours, lunchrooms are often noisy and the children play in the courtyard for at least the last 45 minutes of this period. Everyone is eligible to eat at school but sometimes there isn't enough room for all the children who wish to stay, in this case parents who work have priority. Children who go home for lunch can only be brought back to school when classes start up again after the lunch break, unless you have special permission to bring them in early. Three-year-olds generally nap or rest on mattresses after lunch. A meal in a public school will generally cost between 1 and 3 euros but the municipal authorities decide the fee to be paid based on family income. PRIVATE SCHOOLS usually have a lunchroom but the space is sometimes too small to accommodate all students whose parents want them to stay at noon. In this case, your child can be put on a waiting list. As in public schools the lunch break lasts one and a half to two hours and you can bring your child back only after this mid-day interruption. Some private schools let children bring their lunch to school, but time spent at the table is 45 minutes and children must stay in place in the lunch room until everyone has finished their entrée, plat et dessert. Some very small private schools may have a shorter lunch break organized a bit differently. But this will be an exception. Private schools charge between 300 and 700 euros per trimester for meals, depending on the type of private school (state funded or not). For children who bring their lunch to school the fee is 75 to 150 euros per trimester and a single meal ticket will generally be between 10 and 13 euros.

b) ADHA is only beginning to be discussed as a learning difficulty in France. Most teachers in public schools consider hyperactivity as a behavioral problem and will use a mixture of encouragement and discipline to try to help a fidgety child who has trouble concentrating on the activity at hand and who has difficulty adapting to a daily routine and classroom rules. Public schools cannot exclude students without reason but special classes for children with such learning difficulties exist only for children with very severe problems. Let me add that the highly organized setting in which learning takes place in French primay schools can actually be beneficial to some ADHD children, but of course the child's profile as well as that of the teacher is very an important part of the equation. I have seen hyperactive children who are able to work and progress with the group in a French classroom, though disrupting the class remains an problem. Certain private schools, though not the most prominent ones, are more likely to take special learning needs into account. The solutions offered will be about the same, but private schools more often offer individualized learning and it can be easier for parents to communicate with teachers and with the school staff. In a private school, this question needs to be discussed first with the school head, then with the teacher. In a public school, go to the classroom teacher first.

R. L.: Is a maternelle school required to have an association de parents d'éléves? The school my son goes to does not have one. Although they elected reps for the conseil d'école, they don't have a parents association. When I called the FCPE of my region to ask about this (I live in le Val de Marne), I was told that this school exceptionally doesn't have one. Nobody seems to know why and when I asked the school's director, who is new, she looked at me strangely as if she didn't understand my question. Isn't it wrong not to have an association for the parents?

Parents associations are not obligatory. Schools are required to inform the parents and assure that communication between the parents, teachers, school director, extra-curricular staff remains open. This sounds rather vague and it is. A certain number of elected parent representatives (as many representatives as there are classes in the school) must be present during the conseil d'école meetings each trimester, even if there isn't a parents association. Associations are a link, created by the parents, between the school and the parents, but the school head has other means of fulfilling his obligation to communicate with the families - circular letters, mailings, bulletin board, etc. Going through the representatives who are reelected each year, parents can take the initiative of bringing to the forefront problems in the school or in a particular classroom. If there are no parent's associations in the school, you can go to the school head. If there are parent's associations in the school you might be preceived as a trouble maker if you don't go through the parent delegates first. It's up to you to decide.

The major parents associations are the FCPE, PEEP and the UNAAPE. It is also possible to set up an independent association that is not affiliated with one of these well-established organizations. It is up to the parents to create an association and the regulations dictating how they are organized and what an association's role is in the school have been laid out in a government decree. It is possible that in your child's school communication with the staff is easy to initiate and that no one has been sufficiently motivated of felt the need to start a parents association. On the other hand it is also possible that a certain group of parents more or less control communication with the school, and up until now no one has wanted to upset the status quo and start an association. To find out, talk to other parents to see what the general mood is concerning a parents' associations. You might find that there are a few who would like to start one in the school. Keep in mind also that each of the major associations mentioned above have political links that orient their national agenda, though from a practical point of view, parent association representatives act first and foremost on the problems present in their school.

K.S.: I've been told that if a bilingual child is attending a French school and is at the "learning to read" stage, s/he shouldn't learn to read in English until s/he has mastered reading in French. I however was planning on giving my child reading lessons in English at the same time.Any advice on this?

There are two theories about reading and bilingual children. The theory most applied in French bilingual schools holds that, as you said, a child needs to run a full cycle (learn to read and write) in one language, not necessarily the mother tongue, before learning to read in the second. The alternative view considers that a child can learn to read in two or more languages at the same time as long as each language is taught separately.

Most children can began learning to read in 2 languages at the same time without problem. However, for children with special learning needs such as dyslexia, even a minor form of it, learning to read in two languages at the same time can create confusions that are difficult to untangle.

The catch is that before a child begins to read and write, mild dyslexia is not obvious. It's only when the process has begun that the obstacles to learning become evident. So, for a child who has difficulty with sound/letter correspondence at the visual or the auditory level or difficulty in spatial relations, it's safer to let him learn to read and write in one language before beginning a second language. Reading is a mechanism, and once it has been mastered in one language, learning in a second or even third spoken languages goes quickly. Some 5 year olds who have already learned to read at home might lose interest in reading in English when they start learning to read in French. But this is temporary and the pleasure of reading in their mother tongue will return as soon as the basics of reading in a second language are in place.

If your child is interested in reading in English and there aren't any persistent signs of confusion when reading, then he/she will probably progress well. An important indicator should be, is he/she willing to read in English with you and is it an enjoyable experiencd? If the answer is no, it's best to wait a few months and then he/she will probably start reading in English with curiosity and pleasure.

C. D.: a) How do they teach reading in French schools (are there several different methods, sounding it out vs. memorization)? b) How do they help students who fall behind the rest of the class? c) What kinds of creative activities do they have the children engage in (i.e. show and tell, play acting, music class, art)? Do they teach or promote ethical behavior (i.e. sharing, being kind to each other, accepting those that are different, etc)?

a) There are basically three methods for learning to read in France: the méthode syllabique or synthétique, the méthode globale also called anaylatique, and the méthode mixte which tries to combine the advantages of both techniques. The méthode globale, often referred to in English as sight-reading, is today being widely criticized in France. With this technique children begin by memorizing short words and little by little move on to words with several syllables and short sentences. Education specialists in France are encouraging teachers to apply only the méthode syllabique, which first teaches children to recognize the sounds letters and groups of letters make, and to eventually start off with a combination of the this method with miwte method. With the mixte method learners start by memorizing small words but sound/ letter correspondence is quickly introduced so that the beginning reader can learn to sound out new words.

b) With a class of 30 students in most public schools, a child who falls behind needs to get help at home. The teacher should let the parents know if there is a problem and as a parent don't hesitate taking an appointment to talk to your child's teacher before the end of the first trimester, and earlier if you feel there is a problem. Private schools often put into place soutien or support classes to help a child who has important problems in on of the basic areas of learning such as reading or math. Learning French can fall into this category for foreigners. But even a private school will expect the parents to help their child at home or to take on a tutor if necessary. If you suspect there is a problem, talk with your child’s teacher. She or he might feel that reviewing lessons a bit more at home or paying better attention in class will be sufficient. In any case the teacher should be able to help you decide how to bring your child up to the level of the class.

c) Starting in kindergarten at age 5 the official programs call for 3 hours a week of art education which includes music, theater, painting, arts and crafts, etc., and 30 minutes a week of discussion time on living together, or as you put it ethical behavior. The classroom teacher decides how this directive is applied in his or her class. In the maternelle and early primary years the three hours of required artistic activities are largely met. Little by little learning becomes the priority and creative activities can be replaced by working on basic skills if the teacher feels it necessary, particularly in public schools.

M. S.: a) What are ALL the different levels of schooling in France, e.g., Crèche up to Higher Education. I'd like to understand the typical French education system. How much does schooling cost? - Where can we find information on the best and worst schools? - - As much information about Halter Garderie and Ecole Maternelle in particular as my child will be attending these while in France. - How is the French education system funded? Rebates? How does this work? b) When is a second language introduced?

DAY CARE The crèche is full-time day care that takes children from 3 months to 3 years, age at which they begin nursery school. Garderies, halt-garderies and jardins d’enfant are all part-time day care. These part-time and full-time structures can be either private or public and both are staffed with state certified childcare specialists. You mairie d’arrondissement can inform you on those in your area. The fees paid depend on household income.

There are also certified caregivers who take children, generally not more than two or three, into their homes for day care. They are familiarly referred to as a nounou and a list of these independent child minders can be obtained from the mairie of your arrondissement.

The crèche system is overloaded, and if you need full-time day care it’s a good idea to reserve a place for your child as soon as you know you are pregnant. Of course both parents must work to be eligible. Part-time care is more flexible and will take children for only a few hours a week up to several half days a week. Finding a facility in your area that has a place for your child isn’t always easy, it will depend on the area where you live. In Paris the hourly fee is from 5,70€ an hour for low-income families to 28€ an hour for more well to do families.

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION The maternelle takes over where day care leaves off. School is not obligatory before a child is six years old, but 99% of the children in France attend nursery school as soon as they turn three. After three years at the maternelle, which corresponds to nursery school or pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, children spend 5 years in elementary school learning basic skills. These primary years are followed by 4 years of collège or middle school and the last three years of secondary education take place in a Lycée.

Students who wish to immediately prepare their future vocation or trade after middle school enter a technological or professional Lycée and after two to three years of training and study pass a baccalaureate exam that leads to a job. Those who want to continue their education attend a general studies lycée where they are oriented toward one of three streams (séries) leading to the L, S, or ES baccalaureate exam. Those who obtain this exam, slightly over 80%, are automatically accepted in a French university. Students wanting to enter one of the elite grands écoles and who have a high enough grade on the baccalaureate exam can enter a preparatory class that primes them for the competitive entrance exam to one of the grandes écoles. Only a small number of these students will be validated by the exam to attend a prestigious school such as ENA, polytechnique or normale supérieure.

COST: Public school education is free. This includes universities where students pay only a very moderate registration fee and books. The tuition of private schools varies according to the grade level and the category into which the private schools falls, state funded or not state funded. State funded religious schools can be as little as 1000 to 1500 annually, state-funded secular school are close to 4,500€ a year and private non state-funded schools are between 5000 and 7000 a year. International system schools (ISP, British School of Paris, American School of Paris) cost close to 25,000€ a year depending on the age of the child.

REBATES: Rebates do not exist but there is a back to school allowance to help low-income families pay for school supplies at the beginning of the school year.

INFORMATION: It is difficult, if not impossible, to find information rating primary schools and middle schools according to best or worst, good or not so good. Word of mouth is about the only way. Guides exist but they don’t rate schools, they give only general information. High schools, private and public, are rated according to their baccalaureate results. Those that have a student success rate between 98% and 100% on the exam are considered to be good school. Most of the elite high schools are public schools.

b) It has recently become obligatory in public primary schools to introduce a foreign language. The time allotted is one to two hours a week. The teacher can choose the language she wants to introduce. This is really only an initiation to a foreign language and a primary student can come into contact with English one year and Chinese the next.

In many private schools, students now began a foreign language; often English, at 7 and most bilingual schools start children off in a foreign language at 3 or 4. A trilingual school can teach 2 foreign languages starting at 3 years old.

Traditional foreign language study begins in 6ème at 11 years old and in 5ème (12 years old) students must choose a second foreign language. These languages are included in the baccalaureate exam at the end of secondary education.

A. B.: How do you start the process of searching for a school? At what stage is English taught in the schools? Are you obligated to send your child to the public school closest to your house or can you send them to a public school in another district that has a better reputation. How many children are generally in a class at the maternelle? How many teachers and assistants?

To look for a school you must first take into consideration how long you will be living in France and your children’s age. Young children will adapt quickly to the French system, but for older children who have attended school in another country it can be more difficult. Do you want a school close to your home or are you willing to take the your children across town? Here, also, their age is something to take into account. Eleven and twelve year olds can use public transportation by themselves, but they will lose time trekking across town. You should also take into consideration your child’s personality and any special learning needs he or she might have. Timidity or lack of confidence can be a handicap in the beginning for a child dealing with a new language and a different culture, but in the long run becoming proficient in a foreign language can boost a child’s confidence. The family budget is of course another criteria.

If your are considering a public school, go to the mairie of your arrondissement to find out which school corresponds to your sector. Only a very good reason will permit you to change schools. Once you know this, you can always try to question parents you come across in a nearby park or square. You can even stand out in front of the school as it lets out in the afternoon and try to engage a conversation on the subject. If you don’t speak French, listen to conversations around you to see if you hear English or another language you speak and go towards these people first.

For private schools, I would suggest taking appointments and visiting several schools. The more schools you see, the easier it will be to decide which one best fits your needs.

As to the number of children per class, in the maternelle and primary school classes, public schools allow 30 and sometimes up to 35 children per class. Private schools often evoke small class size but generally tolerate 25 to 30 students per class, depending on the school. There is one teacher in the classroom in both maternelle and primary school. There can be several teacher's aids in a school to help in the maternelle classes but these assistants are oftren shared between the different grades and not necessarily in any one classroom full time. This is true in both private and public schools.

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