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“La Rentree,” or “Back to School” saw me running around the stores a week before to acquire all that was needed on my kids’ list of school materials. I spent about $60 Cdn in total, which included a painting smock for Clarisse, 3 LARGE boxes of facial tissues for each child(!), a portable whiteboard for William (to practice printing his letters and numbers) and a daily agenda book.

The night before school: getting our backpacks ready.

It wasn’t an easy start. Advancing from senior-kindergarten (2.5 h) to grade 1 (5 h) is a big leap for William, although he had 2 full days a week last year by attending his old preschool in the afternoons. In France, elementary school runs for 6 h, with a 2 h (lunch) break. It is an 8 h day a l’ecole. It is even harder for Clarisse as she does not like to be separated from us. Her schedule is the same in “maternelle” (ages 2.5 – 5 which includes kindergarten) but her age group (2.5 – 3.5 y) has nap time for roughly 2 hours! (=Lots of wide-awake late nights now — arghh!)

THE SCHOOL: Parents/caregivers are not allowed inside unless you are dropping off/picking up a child in maternelle.

Their school schedule begins at 8:30 am, lunch starts at 12 pm (11:30 am for Clarisse), school begins again at 1:30 pm, and ends at 4:30 pm. There are NO snack breaks so having a hearty breakfast and lunch is imperative. If you go to the trouble of registering your kids for canteen like we did, your kids will be rewarded with a 5 course meal (maternelle gets 4) and their meal selections are posted online:  http://www.mairie3.paris.fr/mairie03/jsp/site/Portal.jsp?page_id=481  and click on Menus des écoles primaires et collèges button where it says [Sept-Oct 2011]. On the first day of school, my son was treated to a choice of appetizer: raw celery with remoulade, raw tomato slices with vinaigrette, or tabbouleh. Sauteed pork with special gravy for his protein, bulgar for his starch, carrot juice (apparently not true; only water to drink according to Wm), his dairy supplement was a choice of natural yoghurt, petit suisse (soft cheese), or a hard, white cheese. Dessert is fruit: either pineapple, watermelon, or grapes. A sophisticated lunch for the sophisticated French but alas, my kids aren’t French. They barely eat a handful of breakfast every morning and are starving by lunch time. So my stubborn kids eat very little at lunch. I have no idea how small/large the portions are but William’s age group are expected to cut their own meat and Clarisse tells me her class uses real glass tumblers and ceramic plates! When I pick them up at 4:30 pm, they are famished. But conveniently located across the street is a patisserie/ boulangerie (pastry/bread shop)!!! How lucky is that?!!

A l’heure de gouter: snack time after school at the boulangerie/patisserie across the street.

William’s class is very similar to what he would have in Toronto. Everyone sits at desks, he has gym twice a week, art, library, and music once a week and 2 recesses a day. (His Toronto school also offered computer time.) He seems to be coping and there is a chatty boy named Balthazar who says “a demain” (“see you tomorrow”) to him, with hands on William’s shoulders as if saying farewell to a good friend. I like him. Mind you, William is still wandering around the courtyard refusing to play with other children so the supervisors on duty have been checking up on him to see if he’s all right. I feel like I’m reliving preschool with William. He hardly eats the (great) food, does a lot of observing and not socializing, and may eventually play with someone he can be goofy with. So afternoon lunch times have been pretty painful for him as it’s a long time to wander and do nothing. I suggested he use the toilets as he is also regressing into the “holding on until I explode” stage. He has yet to use the washrooms there. His teacher is experienced. She gave him attention the first day and spoke English to him. She is now in “control mode.” The first two days saw a few kids get sent into the corner for talking and there has been no trouble since. She does more talking than using the blackboard (as reported by Wm). I’ve been introduced to the yellow “communication book” so if I have questions or if the school wants to give parents notice, it’s done through this book. I have no problems with this; William’s school in Toronto had a “Friday file” that did the same thing but I could freely chat with the teacher during pickup if I had questions. School is a guarded institution here.

First Day of School: waiting in line for my first meeting with the teacher.

Clarisse’s teacher is new, young and male, and looks like he should be in a GAP commercial. His English is minimal so we only greet each other when I drop Clarisse off. Her first week and a half were hard: lots of crying, tantrum in the corridor (while classmates were napping in the dortoir next door), and scenes of me fleeing from my daughter as she chases me across the classroom. There are 20 kids in both my children’s classes. In Clarisse’s room, there is a total of 3 adults manning her class. I am clueless of what the routine is like in her class and have grilled Clarisse to bits on how her day pans out. Young Jedi has learned well from her Master/Mistress/Mum: “Ask me later,” which is the phrase I tell her when I haven’t time to do something/talk with her. Now when I ask her about school, I am fed the line, Ask me later,” EVERY TIME and at some point in the day, I stop.

First day of school at “maternelle” (petite & moyenne section): the calm before the storm.

I have to mention that there is NO SCHOOL ON WEDNESDAYS. What a fantastic concept! Two days of full-day school followed by a lazy (but crazy-mom) day on Wednesday and back to the grind on Thursday, which feels like a Monday again. (Fridays they come home for lunch so they can actually maintain their body weight.)  And to think there was school on Saturday mornings in France until 2008!!