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Our life in France – school

December 20, 2009
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(Please note that this post reflects our experience in the early 1990’s – I can’t speak for what anyone would experience today.)

After living in Cébazat for six months or so, we moved to Sainte Foy-lès-Lyon, a suburb of Lyon.  Vance turned five over the summer, so it was time for him to start maternelle grande section, or what we call kindergarten.   In order to enroll Vance in school, we had to purchase an insurance policy.  I’m not 100% sure why, but it was our understanding it was in case he injured another student.

Vance attended maternelle in the yellow two story building in the picture above.  There was no drop off and pick up line.  Parents walked their children into and out of the building every day.  I swore I would never forget the schedule that Vance went but, of course, I have.  I would guess that his schedule was something like 8:30 to 11:30 in the morning and 1:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon.  He came home for lunch every day and only went half a day on Wednesday.

Vance’s class had 26 students in it – his teacher had no aide and no parents volunteered in the classroom.  (I offered my services many times, but the teacher only accepted them a few times.)  The only time she got a break, besides lunch, was for P. E.  The students at Vance’s school studied judo and modern dance for P. E.  As you might guess, Vance loved judo, but wasn’t as crazy about dance.

The class didn’t work in workbooks or on mimeograph sheets – the teacher took their notebooks home and hand-wrote work-sheet style assignments for them to do in every single one of those notebooks.  She also maintained a communication notebook with each family in which she wrote announcements and kept us abreast of progress.  We were free to express concerns and questions back to her in that notebook.  I don’t know how she did it all!

In maternelle, Vance learned to read French through phonics.  (We’re not sure when he learned to read English, since he taught himself.)  The paper there looked like graph paper, rather than lined paper, and Vance and the rest of his class were taught cursive writing with a ballpoint pen.  When they became proficient enough with a ballpoint pen, they were advanced to a fountain pen.  (That’s Vance’s first fountain pen to the left.)  This was a big day and the teacher told me we should have cake at home to celebrate when Vance first used his fountain pen.

The students at Vance’s school didn’t wear uniforms, but did wear a tablier (it was almost like a little jacket) in school every day to protect their clothing.  The tablier came home on Fridays to be washed and went back to school on Mondays.  The students changed clothes for P.E., even in maternelle, with the boys and girls all changing at the same time in the classroom.  Of course, this never bothered Vance, but we had friends with a 15 year old son who was mortified that he had to undress in front of girls.

Discipline was different there, too.  Vance would come home and complain that the teacher pulled his hair.  When I asked him why, he said, “I wasn’t doing anything.”  Finally one day, he admitted to talking, so I told him to stop talking if he didn’t want his hair pulled. If a student became unruly they were made to stand outside of the classroom – as far as I know, there was only one girl in Vance’s class who had to be disciplined that way.

I still have Vance’s notebooks, tablier, and fountain pen from maternelle.  Going to maternelle and cours préparatoire (first grade) in France was a great experience for him.  Here’s a picture of him and his wonderful maternelle teacher:

45 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2009 6:37 am

    I’m enjoying your memories of France so much, Kathy!

  2. December 20, 2009 6:58 am

    My oldest is turning 17 next month and like you I swore I’d never forget it, but it’s beginning to get a bit fuzzy now. If it wasn’t for the book they made chronicalling their kindergarten year, I’d barely remember more than the teacher’s name and her a couple of her show-and-tells. Maggie, her new then new baby sister, was one of them, which made it feel full-circle when Mags got the same kindergarten teacher 🙂

  3. December 20, 2009 7:03 am

    It was all so very simple! I can’t believe that poor teacher had to write all that out for all those students! I’m wondering how much it is has changed there over the years. I know my classmates and I get a chuckle when we talk about our grade school in Indiana. It is a different world now. BTW, I love reading your memories. Please do more!

  4. December 20, 2009 7:22 am

    I’ll join everyone else in asking you to keep these posts coming!

  5. December 20, 2009 8:29 am

    Great post, Kathy. I love that you kept the pen! Can you imagine what would happen if a teacher pulled a student’s hair in this country today? It’d be all over the news! Of course, I’d say to my child what you said to Vance “stop talking if you don’t want your hair pulled”. Love that!

  6. December 20, 2009 8:34 am

    Kathy, I so love reading these stories/memories of “your life in France”. To me it’s more interesting than Julia Child (especially since I don’t love to cook)…LOL

    The memories, and photo are wonderful; thanks

  7. December 20, 2009 8:51 am

    Thanks for sharing these memories and pictures, Kathy.

    I can’t imagine children using fountain pens in kindergarten, I wonder if that’s still the practice.

    That teacher had her work cut out for her – 26 students, no aide, and hand-written assignments, wow!

  8. December 20, 2009 9:17 am

    Vance’s teacher is wearing a pretty great jacket. I’m liking that hot pink!

  9. December 20, 2009 9:18 am

    Insurance policy ? 🙂 Your Life in France posts are really good Kathy. Keep them coming .

  10. December 20, 2009 9:22 am

    Really interesting! how funny about the hair pulling. It’s a wonder all the kids – the boys at least – didn’t ask for buzz cuts!

  11. December 20, 2009 9:26 am

    Kathy! You are so bringing us to France through your posts. Great idea.

    I don’t quite approve with the pulling of the hair. I am also amazed about how the teacher could manage writing everything manually! Years and years of experience made her immune to any hand pains I guess..

  12. December 20, 2009 9:47 am

    OH – I remember the graph paper and fountain pens that the French students used when I visited in 1977. I LOVED their style of cursive writing.

    I simply cannot believe all the work that kindergarten teacher was required to do in a given week. Makes me reconsider the complaining I have done this year.

    I truly love these nostalgiac posts about life in France!

  13. December 20, 2009 10:14 am

    The hair pulling took me back about 55 years to Sunday school with the nuns! I can’t imagine teachers doing that in the ’90’s. I can’t imagine kindergardeners using fountain pens either.
    Great post! keep ’em coming.

  14. December 20, 2009 11:04 am

    I’m guessing there was no nap time like I had in kindergarten?

    I love these glimpses into your French life. Does Vance remember any of his French?

  15. December 20, 2009 12:37 pm

    How interesting! It must have been quite time consuming for the teacher to hand write the children’s assignments into their notebooks like she did. Thanks for sharing, Kathy.

  16. December 20, 2009 12:38 pm

    It’s absolutely fascinating to me how different our lives are here in the United States. While I absolutely love it here, I think there are a few good ideas in their schools!

  17. December 20, 2009 12:56 pm

    What a wonderful memory. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your life in France!

  18. December 20, 2009 1:54 pm

    What wonderful memories you have and can share with your son. It is so neat that you kept his notebook and pens from his time in France. Thank you for sharing your memories with all of us!

  19. December 20, 2009 2:31 pm

    Merci de partager vos beaux souvenirs de la France!

  20. December 20, 2009 2:54 pm

    Those are great memories, Kathy. Can you speak French as well? Hopefully teachers in France do most things via computers now.

    I still know my (20 yr old) daughter’s first grade teacher – she lives in the neighbourhood and my daughter takes drama classes with her.

  21. December 20, 2009 5:06 pm

    Great story and experience for Vance. I like their style of kindergarten…a full day, and P.E. included. Those kids moving while they are young. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  22. December 20, 2009 5:15 pm

    These memories from France are really fun! I can’t believe that the teacher took the time to hand write all of their assignments.

    I don’t know when I started reading either. I asked my my mom the other day and she couldn’t tell me. She says that she doesn’t remember me learning and it was like I just always knew how.

  23. December 20, 2009 5:16 pm

    I found this absolutely fascinating!! I love the use of graph paper. Can you imagine a teacher trying to do that today without work sheets/aides/ and handwriting everything???? He’s so cute with his teacher 🙂

  24. December 20, 2009 6:02 pm

    This was a great post to read Kathy! Whtat a super memory!

  25. December 20, 2009 6:04 pm

    Wow, such dedication from the teaching profession in France. Everything is so automated now I can’t imagine a teacher handwriting everything (though if they do kudos to them!).

    Vance was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to partake of some time in an international educational institution.

  26. December 20, 2009 6:19 pm

    What great memories and also an experience for Vance! Children should experience other cultures if they get the chance.

  27. December 20, 2009 8:55 pm

    As strict as the school sounds, I sort of like the sound of it. Structure is great for both the parent and the student. My kids have teachers that are pretty organized, but each teacher has her own way of doing things and it took a good three weeks to learn their preferences.

    I love that you kept the pen. What memories!

  28. stacybuckeye permalink
    December 21, 2009 12:04 am

    The friends that we will be visiting this spring live outside of Lyon!
    I love these posts. Vance taught himself to read?! You’ve got one smart kid, Kathy.

  29. December 21, 2009 12:16 am

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I’d love to live in France for a while. I wish I knew where my kindergarten stuff was. I never got around to mastering the fountain pen though. I’m surprised Vance learned to write cursive at such a young age! I started learning in grade 2 and I’m still … err.. not good at it.

  30. December 21, 2009 11:04 am

    Wow, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing this story. Sounds like the teachers were very hands on and tailored the classroom assignments according to each students’ needs. Wonderful.

  31. December 21, 2009 11:13 am

    Americans are so much more modest than Europeans. In the UK people would change into their bathing suits right on the beach. They’d kind of hold a towel over them, but no one really paid much attention. I’m really modest and so I went swimming only when I had my suit on under my clothes.

  32. December 21, 2009 11:51 am

    This was such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing your time in France with us. My sympathies are with those over-worked teachers.

  33. December 21, 2009 1:15 pm

    I am so amazed that they were using fountain pens and writing in cursive in kindergarten. My third grade son inherited the family “messy handwriting” gene and still has trouble writing legibly in print letters. (Ok, obviously I don’t know if there’s really a messy handwriting gene, but both my husband and I got great grades in school except for penmanship. And once were contacted by the IRS and had to redo our taxes for the year because of my husband’s handwriting. Now we file electronically.)

    These posts about your time in France are so much fun to read! I hope we see more of them.

  34. December 21, 2009 3:58 pm

    I’ve never been off the West Coast, let alone to a foreign country. How very cool. Thanks for sharing your life in France. I’m jealous.

  35. December 21, 2009 3:59 pm

    I take that back. I visited Canada for about 4 hours when we lived in WA and decided to take a day trip before we moved back to CA. Does Canada count as a foreign country?

  36. December 21, 2009 4:03 pm

    Kindergarten in France sounds so different from the same in the States! I think the fountain pen story is very cute, but I might have been a little non-plussed if the teacher pulled hair! I bet you were a little taken aback as well! I really am enjoying your posts about your life in France, and hope you continue them.

  37. December 21, 2009 5:12 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful experience for him – and you.

  38. December 21, 2009 6:01 pm

    Loving the France posts! I went to school in Mexico when I was 9 and my dad was on sabbatical there, and in London when I was 14 and Dad was working with the exchange program for his university. Both experiences transformed my life. I’m glad Vance had the opportunity (but too bad about the hairpulling!).

  39. December 21, 2009 6:15 pm

    I’m with all the rest: please keep these posts coming. This was fascinating; a lovely window into a part of French culture most of us could never see. What an amazing teacher to do so much for each student and their family! Does Vance still use a fountain pen?

  40. December 21, 2009 8:18 pm

    I loved reading this! I’d love to read more about your life in France.

  41. December 21, 2009 8:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. It is so fascinating. And I can’t imagine how this teacher did that! WOW! I’m so impressed. And using a fountain pen in kindergarten! Amazing. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are idiots! : )

  42. December 22, 2009 9:37 am

    Cursive in kindergarten? Wow. My 4th grader is still trying to master it. Thanks for sharing another fascinating story. It’s interesting how different things are in other countries.


  43. December 22, 2009 10:03 am

    This is really interesting – teachers here have it hard, but I don’t know how Vance’s managed! I went to school with my cousin in India once, just to see what it was like. They were using corporal punishment so it was something I had nightmares about for a long time.

  44. December 23, 2009 3:04 pm

    I have to go back and read your other posts about Life in France. I missed them. Kathy, this was wonderful to read and the details you shared showed you still have great memories from that time. I believe that they still use fountain pens at school in Germany. I have a cousin there whose daughter is in grade school and uses them. How different things were then but it sounds like a great experience for Vance. He sounds like he was an easy going child. That is something that they all changed in front of each other! That happened to my son in preschool camp here in the US when they went swimming they all changed into their bathing suits in front of each other, boys and girls. It bothered my son and he went to the bathroom to change. He’s an only child so he may have been more sensitive to it. Other kids with siblings may see that all the time, lol! Several parents complained and I believe that they stopped doing it. I hope that you write more about your life in France.

  45. December 29, 2009 12:01 pm

    It’s fascinating to read how different things were there compared to here. I love the picture of Vance with his teacher. Another great post Kathy; thanks for sharing these stories with us.

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