Your new life chapter in France will bring many firsts and that first day you pack off your children to French school may be a little daunting for some (or a day of celebration for others!). Here are some top tips for making that experience run as smoothly as possible.
1. Set a positive example
Be positive – show you are confident and happy about this transition and your children will follow suit. After all, life is but an adventure! Encourage your child to ‘see’ all the great new opportunities this experience will bring. New friends, new food, new experiences – all of which broaden our minds. Not to mention the gift of being bilingual. It really is an exciting time! Try and flip to the positive without dismissing your child’s concerns.
2. Address their concerns
As much as it’s important to be positive, it’s also important to allow your child to express their concerns. Take the time to listen to and understand them, rather than dismissing them. Try to address each point as best you can and make a plan to work through the potential difficulties together. Be honest and keep positive.
3. Make an effort with the language
Try to ensure both you, and especially your children, have the basics in French before the first day of school. Try to lead by example. It’s ok to admit that it can be tricky – all new learning presents challenges, but keep positive and show your resilience. Obviously, you are going to experience obstacles – it is how you overcome them that is important. And a new language is such a gift!
If your children know at least how to introduce themselves, count, know colours, foods and school equipment, then they have some foundation on which to build and these skills will enable them to settle more quickly.
If they see you trying your best in shops and daily life AND how you deal with it when things don’t go to plan – this is supportive in itself. If you can do it, so can they!
An idea could be to start before your move to France with a language club, tutor or telephone application in your home country. Above all, make it a fun and positive experience. You do not want to switch them off beforehand!
4. Keep ties with friends from back home
Your children may well need their support network and it is so easy to keep in touch with a quick video call. Exchanges of their new exploits can make them feel special and interesting. Their old school might even be interested in a comparison and an update. All of these things can help ease into the transition and keep them feeling connected.
5. Find a private tutor
This may not be for everyone and your children may find this ‘too much’ at first. You know your child. However, someone who can offer language support to the whole family may be beneficial depending on your circumstances. It may not necessarily need to be a teacher.
Try to find out about local groups or classes for you and the children. If you have little French language skills, in three months your children will be nigh-on fluent and surpassing you, so you may want to keep up – especially if you want to understand what they are saying! When you reach the point where your children are squabbling in and out of French and English, at least you will understand why!
Some areas have informal Franglais groups within the commune, or you might join a more formal language group. Ask at your local Mairie or at a local English-speaking meeting place, or research via Facebook groups. ‘Mums in France’ is widely used.
6. Make it exciting!
Your children will receive a list of ‘fournitures’ or equipment that you will need to buy for school. Choosing clothes (as there isn’t a uniform in France) a new school bag, a PE kit, stationery and buying all your school books can be great fun! Team it with a rewarding afternoon treat or lunch out. Above all, keep them involved and upbeat.
7. Meet the community
You will need to take things one step at a time. When you feel ready, why not explore activities where you and your children can begin to make friends outside of school or indeed cement those in-school ties?
Hand-ball and football are both very popular in France. Local horseriding stables may be of interest, plus any other local activities which are often offered on a Wednesday afternoon when there is no school for Ecole and College-aged children.
Try to find out what other parents do. Many towns have a Centre de Loisir which is not a Leisure Centre as you may be accustomed to – they offer child-care activities for all ages and they can be a great way for your children to make friends too.
8. Take an interest
Obviously, as caring parents, we all show an interest. However, it can be tricky, in those early days, for some of us to strike that balance between what we as parents would like to know and what our children are willing to share. Homework could be an ideal way for you to open up a chat about their day. Again, you know your child and sometimes no news is good news.
Unsurprisingly, you may find yourself in a situation where you are unsure as to how to help your child with a homework task due to the language barrier (it does happen!). Remind yourselves this has probably happened to some extent in your home country too, when a teacher has set a task which had you all stumped or you were not sure what they were looking for. Nobody is going to get into trouble for trying. A quick note to the teacher with the help of Google or Deepl translate soon solves that. Or, a call/text to a classmate – exactly as you would have done before. Most schools and other parents are very understanding and the important factor is you are showing interest and supporting your child.
Once you have that homework routine established, it is a good opportunity to check on how their day has been and to see what they are learning, just as you did in your previous lives. It’s a little window into life at French school. You could even find yourself volunteering to help, be part of the APE (Parent-teacher association) or being part of an English ‘cultural experience’ afternoon!
Time for school!
Above all, enjoy this new phase in your child’s life together. Change can be unsettling but on the whole, the education system is much more relaxed and child-focused especially at Primary level. Children have the time and space to enjoy their childhood in France.
Remember all the reasons for your move and how much this will benefit your children and their future. Best of luck!
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