We’ve been back home in France for a few weeks, and Rosie is now in the throes of her third week at school. She was a little late starting the term, due to our commitments in Bali, but thankfully her teachers were very understanding and accommodating.
On her first day, Rosie was amazing. She put her arm around her friend’s shoulder and walked into school with strength and fortitude, with her bunny in one hand and her rocket knapsack on her back.
We heard from her teacher, at the end of the day, that she cried for a little while after we dropped her off, having realized that we had gone. It never occurred to me that she might expect us to stay with her at school, and then be confused after discovering we’d left. It was a bit of a gut wrenching moment, to think that we hadn’t properly explained that concept to her, but when we picked her up at the end of the day she was happy.
Drop offs on the subsequent mornings were more difficult though. I’ve spoken to lots of other Mums about their experience sending a child to school for the first time, and the jury is out as to whether it’s harder for the child or the parent!
Getting her ready in the morning, she would become apprehensive in anticipation of going to school, and then cry when when we dropped her off. The school staff, and other parents, told me this is typical of lots of children. Apparently kids are often excited and stoic on their first day, but then develop more trepidation on the following mornings. They told me that it generally lasts a few weeks, until the child becomes accustomed to their new routine, grows in confidence, and (hopefully!) settles into life at school.
On day two at school, Rosie’s teacher texted us a photo and message of reassurance, to let us know that she only cried for a few minutes after we left, and that ever since she was totally content. It was very kind and thoughtful of him, and assuaged so many of our worries. Really, what an awesome teacher.
The school system in France is a little different to that in the US, the UK, Canada or Australia - the countries that Justin and I are familiar with. In France ‘l’ecole maternelle’ starts at three years old. It’s a bit like preschool, except that the days are longer and it’s provided for free to all children by the state.
School is compulsory for French residents between the ages of six and 16, but almost everyone I have met locally chose to start their kids in school here at three, as we have done with Rosie. Even though it is not compulsory, apparently nearly 100% of French children are enrolled in l’ecole maternelle by the time they are four years old.
Rosie’s school starts at 8.15am, and finishes most days at 3.45pm. Rather than being Monday to Friday, she has only four days of school each week, with Wednesdays being a day off. On Mondays she finishes a little later, because all the students ride the school bus to a nearby indoor pool for swimming lessons.
It’s a long day for such young kids and, understanding this, the school provides a little cot for each of the younger children, so they can take a nap in the afternoon, after lunch. The sleeping dormitory is so cute, with rows of small beds lined up, and play houses and ‘quiet toys’ for those kids that aren’t in the mood for napping.
Having grown up in Sydney, in a big city, my only experience is with much larger urban schools. On the other hand, there are only 21 students in Rosie’s entire school, all aged three to six. All of the children are educated together, in one classroom. The youngest children are seated at clusters of desks, grouped according to age, while the older children have their own individual desks. This year, Rosie’s one of five children in the three-year-old age group.
When researching schools in our local area to determine the best choice for Rosie, I was intrigued to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of educating young children of mixed ages altogether in one classroom. Justin and I visited a Montessori school in Bali, which also operates with blended age range classes - in fact, I think this is one of the general principles of Montessori education. Unlike the Montessori system which elects to mix ages, Rosie’s school is grouping kids of different ages together out of necessity, because there are so few children in the entire school. In fact, the school nearly closed some years ago due to a lack of kids. Young families had been moving away from rural life, into cities, and there simply weren’t enough children to warrant keeping the school open. Fortunately some passionate local parents worked hard to prevent the closure, and now the school is running as intended, with some more people (like us) choosing to embark on a new, quiet life in the countryside.
The head teacher at Rosie’s school in France, and the headmistress at the Bali Montessori school, both shared similar beliefs regarding the benefits of this style of learning when I spoke to them about the pros and cons. They suggested that the youngest children benefit from being exposed to the lessons of the older children, while the older children tend to develop more empathy, patience and responsibility, as a result of having to be understanding of the needs of the youngest in the class. All the children also have the opportunity to socialize and build friendships across the age groups, meaning they can forge relationships with those peers with whom they have shared interests, rather than being solely restricted to children of exactly the same age. Intellectually and philosophically I like the idea, especially while Rosie is so young, and it will be fascinating to see how she progresses.
Another interesting aspect to life at Rosie’s new school is lunch. Each day, a multi-course hot lunch is prepared for the children. The local village town hall has offered the school use of their event space (known as the ‘salle des fetes’) for meal time. Lunch is an hour and half long event, and all the children sit down together at long wooden tables to dine.
The weekly menu is outlined for parents, and posted to the school notice board every Monday. Last week the menu featured rabbit and polenta, while this week the kids are being served fish soup and moules mariniere (mussels). The kind woman that manages lunchtime told us that Rosie sometimes doesn’t want to try certain dishes, but that they strongly encourage her to take a bite of everything. Kids can be so fussy with food, and I suspect this system will help discourage that instinct. It really feels like our efforts as parents, trying to get Rosie to eat a wide variety of whole foods, are being supported by her teachers and caregivers at school. I appreciate the help!
After her wobbly first few days at school, we’ve made some changes to our routine. Together, Rosie and I choose and set out her clothes each evening, so she’s mentally prepared for the coming day at school. She now has a little key-chain with a family photo attached to her knapsack for reassurance, and we’ve been reading A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon, the sweetest book about a little raccoon facing his first days at school (highly recommend).
Amazingly, just as her teachers predicted, Rosie hasn’t cried once this week when we’ve dropped her off at school, or at any other point during the day. It feels like such an accomplishment. She even told us she loved school. Hooray! Fingers crossed that this sentiment lasts!