Options available in France
In France the school day is long and children spend much of their time sitting behind a desk reading, writing and listening. Time for sports and other extra-curricular activities during a typical school day is scarce. They do, however, have a half or whole day off from school mid-week, plus the usual weekend break. Then too, there are the holidays around Toussaints, Christmas, winter, and spring. This leaves time to practice a sport or take on other hobbies.
Here are some tips to help you organise your children’s leisure time:
Most town halls (la mairie) in France offer a wide range of activities for children on Wednesdays, at weekends and during school holidays. Ask for a list at the information desk of your town hall. Go to la mairie also to enroll at the municipal music conservatory where they can learn solfège, a pedagogical technique teaching sight-reading of a musical score, before taking up an instrument or singing in a choir.
Many schools associations throughout France participate in the Ateliers Bleus, an after school sports program that gives primary school students the opportunity to practice a sport on school grounds or close by. Check with your child’s school to see what activities the Ateliers Bleus put at your disposal.
Public schools also offer activites on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These will more than likely take place off school premises, but the children are generally taken as a group from the school to the gym or sports grounds and brought back to school at the end. Ask your child’s school for information about what is offered on days when there is no school, including school holidays. Children enrolled in private schools can sign up for a group if there are vacancies.
Most towns and cities have municipal swimming pools that offer swimming lessons to children in groups or in private classes. Go directly to the swimming facility closest to you to sign your child up for lessons, though you might want to visit several pools first to see which one you prefer. You will find a list of public swimming pools for your area at the mairie or on their website.
Though a town hall can offer off-beat activities like cooking, yoga or scuba diving, you will probably need to address the association or federation for the activity that interests you to find something appropriate for your child. Almost every sport and game in France is managed by the ‘French Federation of’ one sport or another, an acronym that usually begins with FF:
FFT for tennis, FFE for horsemanship, FFE (with a crown over the E) for chess, FFESSM for diving, FFVoile for sailing, FFEC and FFAP for the circus arts and mime, FFAB for the martial arts, the list goes on…
You can look on the internet, in a directory or in a ‘sports guide’ for your area to find an organisation, association or federation that groups information and addresses on the activity that interests you (town halls in the larger cities tend to issue a sports guide once a year).
Another important federation is the Féderation Française des Maisons de Jeunes et le la Culture. In your area there is surely a Maison de la Jeunesse et de la Culture (Youth and Culture Centre) that offers exhibitions, musical or theatrical performances and classes for children in the various arts.
Don’t forget the museums, many of which offer arts and crafts workshops for children
Keep in mind that:
Timid children need confidence building activities such as riding or swimming or plastic arts that will permit them to express themselves by means other than words.
For boisterous children you might consider an activity where they can use up that extra energy, such as a multi-sports club where different sports are practised. Or, to the contrary, relaxing activities like swimming, pottery or sculpture.
Dreamers are often creative children who enjoy theatre, dance or even the circus, an art that is very popular in France and very well done.
Orient your calm, solitary child towards something with an ‘intellectual’ twist like music, theatre, chess or fencing that will allow him or her to develop their attention span and concentration.
- You must have a medical certificate from your doctor saying that your child is apt to practice a given sport.
- Don’t enroll younger children in more than one or two activities per week.
- For kindergarten and young primary age children, pay by trimester rather than annually whenever possible. It’s best not to force them to go to a class they no longer enjoy.
- Be careful not to impose your childhood frustrations on your children. It’s not because you dreamed of being a ballet dancer when you were a little girl that your daughter will necessarily want to twirl around the stage on her toes in a tutu.By Margaret Lanzenberg