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Feeling anxious about DCs starting French school...

(157 Posts)
slinkyboo Tue 26-Jul-11 20:30:28

Just wanted some words of wosdom and hand-holding, really! We've been in France a few months but DC have been at bilingual school. In Sept they are due to start at a French school. The school is very good and everyone praises it, and it is well used to expats' children as there are so many in this area.
BUT I am feeling more and more anxious about it. DCs are 6 and 4 and I cannot stop imagining theor first day and just HOW they will cope, and how lost they might feel. They understand some very basic French and I am trying to get them to watch French TV etc but my stomach wrenches when I think about leaving them there. How many days/weeks of potential tears and upset will there be???
Tell me to pull myself together...I know, I know. And no I am ansolutely not showing any of my fears to them and nor will I!

frazzlenz Wed 27-Jul-11 08:46:13

The first day is a bit scary tbh. I felt very guilty leaving my boys but they actually coped really well. Our school like yours is used to expats and that made a big difference. At that age you children will be fine. They have each other for support as well. There might be a few days of them being unsettled at the beginning but in my experience children at that young age tend seem happy to give the new language a go.

I put three children (4, 7 and 11) into a French speaking school last September. There was not much in the way of language production for the first 8 months but they increasingly understood more of what was said to them. Luckily there were English speaking children so they were able to make some friends.

It does take a while for the language to come. Our teachers were a bit unrealistic about that the children could achieve ie that they weren't speaking much after 6 months. I think if you have realistic expectations about what the children will achieve then it will be ok. Our kids very rarely complained about being in a French speaking school, it just took time for the confidence to the point they were ready to speak in French. Different children develop at different rates as well. Everyone said our eldest would have the most trouble which was not the case.

Good luck smile

guihailin Wed 27-Jul-11 17:18:49

My children are at a French maternelle. It is brilliant. Last year, in an average Moyenne Section class (born 2006) there were about one third of the kids who spoke another language with their mother or father.

They learn so much, but it is deconstructed into enjoyable, play parts, so it really is play-led. They do lots of singing and that is a super way for your children's vocab and accent to improve. At 6 and 4, they will be fine.

I'd encourage you to sign them up now for the Centre de loisirs (summer club) at their school. It is run by sports and crafts animateurs, not the teachers, but gives a great taste. If you are not a member of MESSAGE, I'd encourage you to join.

Lots of anglo-saxons like to criticise, but in fact in France, it's the French public and Catholic schools which have the most qualified teachers and best results. The maternelle and primaire are also, in my experience, very happy places. You just have to get to understand the culture and etiquette.

By the way, several grown up friends of ours entered a French school for some time as kids, having spoken no French previously, and quite a few of them got the taste for life! At my year in Oxford, several of the top language students had had exactly this situation as a child! Your kids will probably be fine; try not to let your anxiety rub off on them.

guihailin Wed 27-Jul-11 17:27:01

Some practical tips :

- Get the Hachette summer workbooks for the new class
- Don't expect class lists to go up until September 1
- Definitely go to the start of term "class meeting" because they will give masses of details about the school day
- Sign up to accompany any school trips if you can
- Look up the year-group programme
- After a few weeks, make an evening appointment with each child's form teacher (don't expect to chat with the teacher at drop off or pick up) and do it again occassionally thro the year (you are not expected to fuss, but you are expected to be "behind and supporting" your child)
- Don't expect to be automatic and immediately friends with classmates' parents (read some French culture and etiquette books if that's a surprise)
- Expect the teacher to point out a weak point : that is done to help the child and teachers to focus and improve it little by little, it is not a direct criticism
- Whenever your child comes home with a few lines of a new song learned, look it up and learn it all with them

guihailin Wed 27-Jul-11 17:43:22

Also... smile

- The public schools deliberately change kids around each year, to avoid cliques and disruptive pairs, so know that your children's classmates will often be new to one another too in the same class
- If your children are already at a bilingual school, then presumably they've already heard lots of French, even if they can't speak it fluently
- At our maternelle, non-French speaking kids had extra help at lunch-time, all free
- The lunchbreak is typically 11.20am to 1.20pm, and it can be lovely to pick up the children if you can to lunch together, and give them downtime
- Many mothers work 4/5, so have Wednesday off
- Now it's July, our kids and friends' kids are all away...
... all that to say, there is alot of time when they are not at school in France

slinkyboo Wed 27-Jul-11 17:44:40

Oh thank you so much smile
It's great to hear such positivity when deep down I feel like I'm somehow leaving my children in the lurch come September sad without me or their mother tongue to help them.
I so desperately want them to be happily bilingual and I know this is the start. My six year old 'knows' three other children starting CP at the same school (although it's unlikely they will be in the same class) but they have been in GS together when my DD was in bilingual school.
One more question - they are down to attend the school canteen twice a week. I was thinking of postponing this and collecting them for lunch for the first couple of weeks, although it might be tricky with my job re timings. Do I ease them in gently or just get them into the weekly routine straight away?? (two canteen lunches, two lunches with mummy).

slinkyboo Wed 27-Jul-11 17:47:01

X posts!!
Yes, they heard lots of French at their last school, esp my four year old as most of PS were French. But they never speak it except very basic words/numbers...

guihailin Wed 27-Jul-11 18:58:47

IMHO you (like the majority of parents at the school) need to work and work well, so firstly make sure you can do that. Wednesdays are a different matter. I've seen many successful working mothers take their Wednesday: it can be fabulous. A real institution here.

The advantages of school canteen and lunchtime recreation are:
- that is where they make most friends
- no walking back/to school
- wonderful 4 course lunch, healthy and varied regime; our school's menu is posted on the Town Hall website, so it helps you to plan evening meals which match (query whether you can rush from work and make a healthy, balanced lunch every day)
- allows you to work serenely a full day
- many children up and down France are doing this, and are happy with it

The advantages of home lunch, then back at 1.20pm are:
- family lunch and conversation together round the table
- breaks the school week into [4 x 3 hour sessions] + [4 x 3 hour sessions]
- down time from the French speaking
- many children up and down France are doing this, are happy with it !

slinkyboo Wed 27-Jul-11 19:00:50

The school does extra French twice a week after school, which is brilliant.
I have not joined MESSAGE as I thought it was for people with much younger children than mine??

BriocheDoree Thu 28-Jul-11 09:10:21

Slinkyboo, not much to add to Guihailin's EXCELLENT advice above, but just to add that if you are going to put them into the canteen, I would do so straight away. My little one, who started PS last year, only went one day a week to begin with and when I had to increase it to three days when my work pattern changed it was really difficult because he had decided that he would much rather come home with me. Some kids love the canteen (my older one did) but some kids don't like it because of the lack of structure and the difficulty of being thrown in with all the kids speaking a different language (the case for my little one). It depends on the child! However, neither of mine spoke French when they started (we've lived here for years but I didn't work when they were very little so they had had little exposure other than a few half-days in halte garderie) and they are both now (end of PS, end of CP) fine. DS (the younger one) found this year really hard, but I just kept on pushing him because he HAD to go (so that I could work and he could learn French).
BTW my kids are 7 and 4 and I belong to message! Don't go to playgroups but do find it a useful resource for life in Ile-de-France. Obviously depends where you live as to whether it is any use but I have had some specific difficulties since coming to France where the support has been invaluable.

Bartimaeus Thu 28-Jul-11 09:31:09

Message is for all English-speaking mothers, regardless of children's ages! I know there are activities also for teenagers so 6 and 4 are not too old grin

I joined recently (am expecting my first) and I find it's invaluable as a source of information, or even just to keep in the back of your mind as a safety net. If and when you need it, it's there.

It's also a great way to meet other people in Paris, something that is not always easy, although I've lived and worked here for many years.

Whereabouts are you? It's not just for people in Paris, although most of the meets are here. But the forum is useful wherever you live.

guihailin Thu 28-Jul-11 10:33:01

MESSAGE now has about 1800 families who are members. It's a ma-hoo-sive source of information for your sort of schooling questions, whatever the age. You can meet families in person, post on the forum or search on the forum. It's a goldmine, all run by volunteers.
An aside : (just a generalisation) many many bilingual families who are well integrated into French life, who have been here for years, will not be MESSAGE members (do not feel the need). So, be a bit wary about what can seem like a colony of all the bilingual private school posts etc. because in fact the very many families who are thriving here will not necessarily join and post.
It is excellent though, even runs "What you need to know about school in France" workshops.

slinkyboo Thu 28-Jul-11 12:31:06

Thank you for more very useful advice smile
I think I will start as I mean to go on re canteen. I'd rather get it all started at once than have to introduce something more at a later date.
Thanks for further info re message, too. I'm in Oise so central Paris events would not be for me, but the general support network and website sound good. How much does membership cost?

sommewhereelse Thu 28-Jul-11 17:57:25

Slinkyboo which end of Oise are you? I live in the Somme, near Amiens.

slinkyboo Thu 28-Jul-11 18:50:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Could someone put up a link to MESSAGE please?

I would try to give some advice but the above posts are fantastic and my bumbling along in the Brittany countryside wouldn't add too much grin

dikkertjedap Thu 28-Jul-11 20:16:45

This may be a silly question, but why can't they stay at the bilingual school for another year or so until their French has improved?

slinkyboo Thu 28-Jul-11 21:08:47

Dikkert, it's not a silly question. We had considered this but the longer they stay in bilingual school, the harder it will be to integrate them into a French school. They do not learn enough French in bilingual school to function in, and be immersed in, french society.
If we were only here for a couple of years then they would stay at bilingual school, no question. But we want to really settle here and so local school is essential - and the younger the better.
All that does not stop me feeling anxious about their first few weeks, of course, but it will all be worth it when they are babbling away happily in two languages smile

dikkertjedap Thu 28-Jul-11 23:35:33

This is maybe not very helpful, but it would worry me for the six year old, especially given that Frazzlenz said that in her case there was not much in the way of language production for the first 8 months. The reason it worries me for the six year old is because the lack of language skills could cause his/her to get behind with other subjects as well (numeracy, writing, whatever else they teach at that stage in France). Clearly you know your own children best and each child is different. My own daughter has learned to speak quite good but not fluent Dutch in a six month period through me talking Dutch all the time to her and reading in Dutch to her, Dutch songs etc. It is a huge effort especially when both are tired but does pay off. I don't know how good your French is, but if it is quite good, then one option would be bilingual school with only speaking French, listening to French children's songs, French children's TV and reading books in French, might be an option. On top of this they might be able to join French clubs (like scouts, sports, etc., especiallly the six year old). If this was possible and if you were able to speak French consistently (really almost all the time), you would expect a massive improvement definitely in one year. If your French is not good enough a French au pair might be an option? Research has shown that children who move to another country before they are 8 pick up the new language really quickly, however, they also lose their first language unless it is very well maintained (which it would initially in the bilingual school and if after one year you switch to French school you could swop and speak solely English at home, read in English etc.). Clearly, all situations are different and you are the best judge as you know your kids best and the schools and other options best. Good luck, and yes, I can understand that it worries you, I would feel exactly the same.

natation Fri 29-Jul-11 08:33:24

If slinkyboo is a native English speaker, I cannot see how her 6 and 4 year old would lose their English by going to a French school, rather than a Fr/Eng one. In our local francophone school, there are over 30 native English speakers, some speak English only at home, some speak English + French, some speak English + another language, some are born in Belgium to one Belgian parent, some are born abroad and came to Belgium between the ages of 2 and 11. If you met this group of 30+ children, you would not be able to figure out who speaks at home only English, English + French, English + other language. The common factor is that they all have a native English speaking parent and they speak it at home. What slinkyboo must NOT do is attempt to change the home language to French or speak a mixture of French and English, if it is not the case already, ie if the parent does not speak French as a mother tongue, refrain from the temptation to speak less than perfect French to your children. I can write this because I do exactly this with our 2 youngest and I know I shouldn't, but they insist on speaking French to me, it is hard not to continue in French with them, I am now making as much effort as possible to reply and continue in English.

slinkyboo, I'm sure your children will be fine, especially since they have the experience of a bilingual school behind them. I am only speaking from anecdotal evidence, but from what parents have reported to me about the few younger anglophone children I have met who have NOT settled well into French schools and have been moved into a different schooling system, the common factor has been their parents' lack of acceptance that the schooling methods/system are different. I know this is a sweeping statement, but parents' commitment to their children's advancement in French seems to be a major factor in their children integrating. Of course a school which welcomes non francophones and offers less boring teaching methods and lots of extra-curricular activities and parental involvement helps :->

Perhaps it is worth asking the school immediately for your 6 year old if any of the teachers are interested in private tutoring a couple of hours a week? If there is a school homework club where the teachers actually offer help, worth joining? If your French is not very fluent, I can see you might have difficulty communicating with teachers, ask the school immediately if they can introduce you to parents who speak French and English, they may turn out to be of great help in the first few weeks. Helping with homework at home at the beginning might be a big hurdle, even with almost fluent French, I will never forget our then 6 and 10 year olds coming home with homework they just could not do without my help, I ended up writing on their sheets whenever I had to translate things when they were able to complete questions without help, so the teacher would know what they could not understand. I made us of visual French dictionaries, even a Maths dictionary for the 10 year old as he was doing things I couldn't even remember how to do in English and had no idea of French terminology! After a few months, our children started doing their homework without help, how it should be, but hard work at first.

Outside school, I'm sure you'll find something sports/musical/arty to do in French. I highly recommend Scouts/Guides for your 6 year old -here in Belgium, youth movements are still very popular and it's a fabulous way to form close friendships outside school, our own 6 year old starts in September and is now getting excited at the prospect, hopefully in France youth movements are still strong too. If you are lucky, you might also be able to find activities in English. When we first moved to Belgium, I arranged one activity a week in English for our children - Rugby and Rainbows (Guides) - it has led to friendships in English outside of school, even though the children no longer do these activities.

I'm sure your children will do just fine. Positive attitude is half the battle. Don't expect miracles - yes some children take longer than others, a very minority start speaking their new language immediately and never compare your children to these ones, the vast majority take several months before they have enough receptive knowledge of their new language to be able to speak it. Remember babies don't speak at birth, they take a while listening to mum and dad before they make their first words, in under 8s, any new language acquisition follows the same sort of "osmosis" pattern, speak coming usually long after comprehension.

slinkyboo Fri 29-Jul-11 12:41:51

Thank you Natation for the detailed and kind reply smile The school, twice a week, has extra French (in a fun, club-type setting) for the ex-pat children. This is an hour after school twice a week. As for the other parents, luckily I know five other Mamans whose children are already at the school (and three of them are fluent French speakers). So I am very lucky there as well, in that there will be a lot of opportunity to ask questions! (They are helping me out already with what equipment I need to get, etc.)
Re outside school, my DCs are already down for swimming lessons at the local pool, which will be in French of course! We are definitely committed to settling here and supporting the DCs in their school and in their French smile

Dikkertjedap, home will definitely be English speaking (I do not have the fluency of French to make it otherwise even if I wanted to!). I am not worried that my six year old will lose her English as she is already advanced in the language (she was reading at 4, has excellent spellings etc) and she will be continuing to read English books, speak English at home etc. PLUS - and this is a real plus - there is an Anglophone school (private) here that runs weekly (Weds mornings at Primaire, linchtimes at College etc) to keep up children's English (when English is their mother tongue). This school continues up to and including Lycee and the students can take IGCSE etc. Both my DCs are enrolled in this school.

I had a good look yesterady at all the school books of a friend whose little girl has just fnished CP in the school where my DCs are about to start. I was heartened to see that the work looks very do-able in terms of my DD's ability and that I can understand the instructions etc...nearly ten months here must have improved my French a bit, even if I still struggle daily!

SO I need to concentrate on a) not showing my nerves to the DC AT ALL, b) expecting times of tears from the DC but not being phased by them, c) jollying it all up for the DCs.

Bartimaeus Fri 29-Jul-11 15:01:24

Can't remember prices (check out the FAQ) but I know I found it very reasonable and the forum is great for any questions and France and the French systems.

Also good just to chat to people and on bad days to moan about the bloody French! grin

Thank you!

kakapo Mon 01-Aug-11 19:03:36

When I was 6 I started school in a new country, with absolutely no knowledge of the language.

It was fine. There were a few difficulties, but it didn't take long before I knew the language. And it sounds like your DC are on the way.

A few things helped me:

- knowing stock phrases (e.g. 'my name is x'), sounds like your DC are probably sorted with this!
- knowing approximately what would happen that day. I didn't understand any instructions from the teacher, so things like the class getting up and going for gym, or even just getting books out, were very confusing.
- having a place arranged to meet my sibling during break time
- it would have helped if i had had a tour of the school beforehand

slinkyboo Mon 01-Aug-11 22:48:35

Thank you kakapo.
I think the stock phrases are ok, and they will certainly understand basic instructions (sit down, open the book, be quiet etc!). I think DD will follow what the others do even if she does not fully understand more complex instructions (I hope confused )
DD and DS will not be able to meet as they are in separate playgrounds...the playground is certainly one part of the day I'm fretting over but I don't think there's anything I can really do to help, except bolster DD's confidence as much as I can.
Tour of the school - they don't 'do' this but luckily on the last day of term the DCs and I went with a friend whose DCs are at the school DS saw his area and where his coat etc will go, and DD saw CP area and playground and - very important - the loos!!
Glad to hear that you found the experience ok...and that you are not traumatised!!

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