Helping your children integrate into the French schooling system

One of the main considerations for a family moving to France is how the French education system works, and how easily their children will integrate into it. Ensuring that you children are happy with their new life in France is of primary concern to most parents who move to the country with children. It is impossible to guarantee the happiness and contentment of your children. But, when it comes to their integration into the education system, there are things that can be done to support and ease their journey into French schooling.

french school

How old your child is or children are when you to make the move to France does have an impact on how easy or difficult they will find the adjustment to their new school life. Children under the age of six tend to find the move easier than those who are older. Furthermore, moving children when they are at a point in their education which would mean that they would be moving schools or classes naturally anyway, in their home country, can make a move to a French school easier, as they are already prepared for the fact that change is to come – regardless of whether they were to stay in their home country or start a life in France.

Below are five ideas which can have a positive impact on supporting your child as they integrate into the French schooling system.

1. Be involved yourself

French schools, as with most schools across Western Society, rely on parents, grandparents and supporters from the local community to help with the running of each school term. Assistance may be needed with supervising swimming classes, with the non-mandatory yet ever so populate classes that run on a Tuesday and Friday afternoon, with school excursions and the annual Kermesse. In addition, most schools have spring markets, Christmas markets, Christmas carols, brioche sales, chocolate sales and fundraising events that demand time, commitment and energy from parents. As a new parent at your school, it can make a real difference to both your own and your child’s integration, if you can help with as many aspects of school life as possible. The amount of time you have available to do this is of course dependent on any other commitments you may have; other children, work, etc. But if you can find time to help with the running of school life, even just a little, it will make a difference to how you and your family are viewed by the school. It provides an opportunity to show that you are willing to get involved in local life, it helps you find friends with whom you already share some common ground, and importantly it allows you an insight into how school life really is for your child.

This insight enables you to support your child further with their integration. You can identify friendships that they are starting to build, and encourage these by inviting friends for play dates. You can also see if your child is struggling – perhaps the language barriers are proving harder to overcome than they’ve told you, or perhaps they are finding it hard to break into already established social circles. Being aware of any difficulties enables you to help address them and work through them with your child.

2. Seek extra-curriculum activities that your child enjoys

classroom by ecole des roseaux, on Flickr

Establishing friendships is an important part of school life. Not only is the social aspect crucial to how much a child enjoys school (and arguably then learns from school), but it is also an important confidence booster and self esteem lifter. Friendships don’t have to be initiated within the confines of the school gates however. After-school clubs, morning clubs and extra-curriculum activities all play an important part in the formation of friendships and in the creation of a social network for your child. It can therefore be a good idea to be proactive in seeking extra-curricular activities that your child really enjoys. This may involve travelling a little, and it may involve sacrificing a bit of family time at the weekend, but it really is worth the effort. Your child will be happy to be spending time doing something that he / she really enjoys. They will start to establish friendships. Their understanding of the French language will improve. And importantly, their confidence will grow.

3. Help them to become fluent in French

Language barriers are a real issue for older children who have moved to France and commenced life at a French-speaking school. Without a very solid understanding of the French language, it is difficult to keep up with class work, homework, and to make friends. To support your child’s integration, there needs to be a focus on language. Be proactive here. Read as many French stories with them as possible. Listen to French music; let them watch French cartoons or French TV. Expose them to as much of the French language as possible. Private tutoring is often an option that many ex-pats seek out. This is of course a strong option to help improve your child’s French. But don’t panic if this feels like an expensive option, or if you find there aren’t any tutors nearby. Many parents (particularly those who have children at College or Lycée) are more than willing to take part in a "skill exchange" agreement, where you help their child or children with their English studies, and in exchange they help your child with their French. Furthermore, many parents are also more than happy to spend an hour or so a week with your child to help them with their reading or pronunciation, in exchange for a cup of coffee and slice of cake.

4. Encourage Friendships

It can be draining to have numerous children roaming around your house or garden, on play dates which you wished you’d never agreed to! But such social gatherings are hugely beneficial to your child, and to their overall integration at school. So try to approach them positively and energetically! Encourage your children to invite their friends over to spend time at your house, or indeed for your child to spend time with their family. Arrange birthday parties, Christmas parties, or simply lunches with other parents where the children will be interacting together too. Yes these arrangements are often stressful and require some planning and organisation, but they do make a difference to your child’s confidence, self esteem and overall happiness.

5. Help them keep in touch with friends and family from their home country

Moving to another country does not mean that relationships established previously must end or be weakened in some way. Not only is this true for yourself, but also for your children. Encouraging them to keep in touch with friends and family from their home country will not hinder their integration into their new school and social life; if anything it should strengthen it. Having the ability to talk to people that are important to you can make such a difference to your own happiness, your confidence and your self esteem. For children, having an inner sense of happiness and a confidence in themselves means that they are more likely to approach their new school life positively. It can also take away any sense of loneliness they may feel as they adjust to life in France.

This article was written for Lost in France by Sam Pearce

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Helping your children integrate into the French schooling system
One of the main considerations for a family moving to France is how the French education system works, and how easily their children will integrate into it. Ensuring that you children...

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