My husband taught me last year that the word école – the only word I learned in French class for “school”–referred only to the first few years of education in France. School in France is mandatory from the age of 5, although some children begin nursery school at 2 and most have begun by the age of three. After école maternelle comes école primaire and the famous CP year. CP is more or less the equivalent to first grade; it’s the first year of “real” school when children learn to read and write. Next comes collège which is a rough equivalent to middle school or junior high. The first year in collège is known to be very tough since kids are expected to be more grown up. And finally, there is lycée which is more or less high school.
Literally “the return” – is a huge deal in France, not only because it marks the beginning of the school year but also because it represents the return to “normal” for most of the country since the majority of people take an extended summer vacation. According to a 2007 study, more than half of the French population use most of their yearly vacation during the summer.
For a bilingual family, la rentrée means finding ways to keep English and American culture in the every day context after a period of more intense English language activity in the summer. This could be a challenge especially when the French and American school systems are so different. Over the past two years, my mother (a school librarian) has provided us with some great books on school that not only reinforce language skills and school vocabulary, but also give some insight into the American/English classroom.
Here are some recommendations for young bilingual readers just starting school:
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton – Splat is so nervous about his first day of school that his fur stands up on end but he brings a little surprise in his lunch box that teaches the whole class a lesson. The pictures are funny while making light of the first day jitters. Recommended for 5-7 year olds or read aloud for younger children.
Maisy Goes to School by Lucy Cousins – A simple lift -the-flap book where Maisy does fun school activities like painting, feeding the goldfish and counting. It is recommended for 4-8 year olds (because it’s pretty fragile) but if your child isn’t a page ripper, it is also good for younger children.
New Bear in School by Carrie Weston – Everyone is scared of the hairy scary bear in the new class and no one wants to play with him. But when he saves the other kids from the rat pack, he becomes everyone’s best friend. This book is good at dealing with the fear of being different. It is recommended for 4-8 year olds.
Hide and Seek all week by Tomi Depaola – This is an easy reader. The kids decide to play hide-and-seek on Monday at recess but it ends up lasting all week long. This book is good to show a bit of American culture through the activities while also reinforcing counting skills and days of the week. It’s recommended for 3-7 year olds.
If You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond – In this well known series, the mouse wants to come to school and then he wants more and more and more! This book has a quick rhythm and is very silly. It’s recommended for 4-8 year olds or makes a great read-aloud for younger readers.
Charlie and Lola: I Am Absolutely Too Small for School by Lauren Child – Charlie has “a little sister Lola who is small and very funny”. In this book from the great series by Lauren Child, Lola starts school and her wise older brother helps her get past her fears. It’s recommended for 4-8 year olds.
We provide a few tips on dealing with the French school system and expat stories on being an American student in a French class. If you too have a story or some knowledge to share, we’ll be glad to welcome your contribution !