FRENCH SCHOOL (FOR THE LITTLEST OF PEOPLE)
In France, school starts at 3 years of age. Many non-French folk are horrified by this, but the natives are horrified when a 3 year old is NOT at school. I have been asked repeatedly, “Why is Euan not at school??” It's been a slow start on this front. Here's why.
I have been:
- Unprepared. The Aussie way is for kids to attend 3 year old kinder, followed by 4 year old kinder THEN school at 5 or 6. I have been programmed my whole life to believe this is how it should be/is done.
- Overwhelmed. There are too many options! International, bilingual (all to varying degrees), French, English, American, private, public and more.
- Unprepared. Euan has not been prepared for school. I hadn't even brought up the concept before we moved to Paris (school is for big kids).
- Overwhelmed. Quite frankly in the beginning, there was enough to think about; where to live, how to set up a bank account and some god-awful terror attacks thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t deal with the thought of throwing my son to the school wolves as well.
- Apprehensive. French schools have a reputation for being strict and regimented. This is a stark contrast to the kids' beautiful and nurturing “play-based” child-care centre at home.
- Unprepared. School children are expected to be independent with toiletting. The teacher/student ratio is something like 27 kids to 1 - there simply aren't enough hands to help with buttons and bottoms. More on this challenge later.
Euan is at the age to attend what they call ecole maternelle (similar to pre-school). It starts with petite section at 3 years of age, followed by moyenne section at 4, and grande section at 5. Schools generally run all day from 8.30-4.30, 4 - 5 days per week. Many schools are closed or run shorter programs on Wednesdays. Most provide after-school care up until 6.30pm. It is common for children to go home for lunch at 11.30 and return at 1.30 for a nap followed by afternoon activities. For children in petite section, there is an option to attend mornings only (from 8.30-11.30). The school year runs from September to July.
For the younger kids, there is creche which is full-time care for babies and toddlers up to 3, used by parents in full-time work. Halte garderie offers part-time daycare (2-3 half-days per week), also for children under 3. Hazel has been attending halte garderie and loves it. Her little face looks a bit worried when she first arrives but when I pick her up she is chatty and smiley and proudly waves “oo ah” to the carers (Hazel’s first French words meaning au revoir). She is sociable and pretty adaptable from what I can tell. I think she is a fortunate age to be having this experience - her brain is wide open to learn both French and English.
So back to Euan! There is practically nowhere for 3 year olds to go other than school. Consequently, Euan was getting bored and frustrated at home. He developed an intense new relationship with his Teddy and there have been tantrums aplenty. He has spent a lot of time staring at his world map poster saying “We’re in France. We’re not in Austraya. I wanna go back to Austraya.” This breaks me a little bit. These are big concepts for a little boy. He is smart so there’s no sugar-coating things - yes Australia is a long way away. No, we’re not going back there anytime soon. Home is here for now. He gets overwhelmed often and did I mention tantrums?
I strongly felt that he needed somewhere to go - a place where he can learn, be social and have fun. Playgroups and play-dates are not so easy to organise here - because most kids are at school! After some research (talking to people mostly), we came upon a tiny international school nearby for kids from 2-6 (up to elementary school). It has better ratios. Learning is less structured. It takes kids that are not yet toilet-trained and the teachers speak English. Due to limited availability (and cost), Euan is attending just 2 afternoons per week. It turns out that this school has been a fabulous stepping stone for him/us. When he is more confident with his toiletting, and his mother is more PREPARED and less OVERWHELMED, he will attend the local French public school. I have been there, met the principal and overall I'm very impressed. We are looking forward to the next transition.
All of this thinking has officially turned me into a worry wart. But I’m so glad Euan has begun his very own French journey, even though it's only 2 afternoons at this stage. Despite my joy, he has expressed a few reservations. “I don’t like school,” he says. “I WANNA SPEAK FRENCH!” he shouts. Hmmm. Nobody said it would be easy (note to self). Reward for all this thinking and worrying is school pick-up. At the end of the day, mums (along with nannies and a few dads) wait outside for the kids to return from their regular trip to the park. Up the cobbled street they come, in single file, each holding onto a long rope so as not to lose each other. I tell you there is nothing cuter than an orderly row of rosy-cheeked 3 year olds all decked out in their warm winteries!
I digress. All for a good cause, IMO.
I’ve been told often that kids will toilet train when they’re ready - follow their lead. I think if we waited for Euan to initiate it he’d be nearly 18 years old. He just wasn’t interested and resisted my subtle suggestions and attempts to make it “fun”.
We pussy-footed around the issue for a while. Recently though we got serious. Chris got his “Scary-Dad” on. We resorted to bribes, starting with stickers on the dinosaur. One star for wee, two for poos. He got good at the wees, but not so much the poos. But stickers weren’t exciting/desirable enough. Okay one biscuit for wees, two for poos. Okay, one biscuit for wees, two for poos PLUS 10 pages of Lightening McQueen’s ridiculously long book. And finally the most successful bribe (highly recommended) was this.
If you do a poo in the toilet you can have 2 biscuits, 10 pages of Lightening McQueen and watch the Star Wars trailer with Dad (AKA Scary-Dad) on the iPhone. A poo accident will result in Darth Vader being put out of reach until such time a poo is done in the toilet.
We are so proud. He is proud of himself. He likes to share his achievements with the world. “Hey! I did a poo in the toilet! Now I get to watch Star Wars with Dad!” This is the only time I have been glad for a language barrier. Although poo is a fairly universal word. Also, I can’t be certain he hasn’t tried to push out few extras with the Star Wars theme song playing in his head. You reap what you sew I suppose. Or so I’ve heard.
Not long now and we'll be testing out the French school. Wish us luck! Also, tell me, what are your toilet-training tricks? Leave a comment!