Life at School in Paris

The daily routine for attending French schools can seem alarming and hectic at first, but after a few weeks, everyone should be nicely settled in. In the initial days, your frequent mantra should be: ‘Hundreds of thousands of families send their children off to school every year – I can too!’ Once you realize that La Rentrée (September) is not a herculean task, you will be able to juggle playdates, carnets, snacks and maybe even volunteer at your child’s school.

Before the school year even begins, you will receive a supply list from the school with all of the necessities that are required. These lists can be extremely specific and often overwhelming for the uninitiated. To make it more frustrating, you will almost always have to visit more than one store to complete the checklist. Try to make the purchases in advance when the stores are not packed with frantic parents just back from vacation, ask salespeople for help if you are in doubt as they will be able to point you to the properly spaced lined paper without hesitation, and relax. Think of the whole exercise as a sort of French scavenger hunt.

Many of the private schools require that their students wear uniforms. While the majority of public schools do not have uniforms, there are certain rules to follow and common sense usually dictates how appropriate is your child’s clothing. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. If there are sport activities, the necessary sports clothing and equipment will be mentioned in the school supply list.

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of backpacks on wheels for young students. A medical study indicated that school-age children were suffering severe pain because of the heavy loads of books that there were hauling to and from school on a daily basis. Since then, parents and teachers, are trying to lighten the load for children. For a selection of backpacks, pencil cases, and other school equipment, visit your local papeterie, Monoprix or other department stores.

As most children attend school in their neighborhood, walking is a popular mode of transport. You will also see students and parents alike zipping along the sidewalks on non-motorized scooters, which are quick and efficient. Many will also take mass transportation to and from school if the facility is not close by. Some private schools will offer bus service, but there is usually an additional charge. Be sure to ask at the school.

Wednesday afternoons (or all day Wednesday) are often free, and this is when children usually pursue sporting and musical activities.

The school holidays are long, but the school day is long also, typically 9-4.30 at primary school and 9-5 at upper school (age 11-15).

Packed lunches do not exist – the children eat school lunches or go home to eat. The school meals are usually of good quality and are true French “dejeuners”, including appetizer, entre, cheese and dessert. It may be hard to resist smiling when your kindergartner come home to tell you he had beetroot salad for an appetizer, roasted chicken for the main course, Camembert and mousse au chocolat for dessert – and he ate it all!

Education is taken seriously and most student/teacher relationships are formal, with the teacher being called “maitre” or “maitresse”. That said, there are some schools where first names are used. It all depends on the setting.

Absences must be addressed in the form of a written excuse — sometimes an email in the morning stating the student is ill will suffice. If the illness is more than a day or two, a written excuse by a doctor is required. School administrators strongly discourage students missing school for doctors appointments or to leave early for vacation. That said, in the early years, it is not detrimental to the student’s education, but as the levels get higher, absences are not tolerated without a valid excuse.

Some schools have a school doctor or nurse on the premises full-time and others part-time. In addition, the schools will arrange for a yearly overall check-up either at the school or an off-premise facility. You will be asked to provide your child’s carnet de sante when these check-ups are organized.