One of the things that had me in the most panic last fall as we were planning our move was where the girls would go to school. I spent weeks researching schools and reaching out to friends of friends for recommendations. In the end, we decided that an English-speaking international school would be best, as dropping the kids midway through the year into a French-speaking school for only 6 months seemed pretty cruel. We applied to several, spent some anxious days and weeks waiting, and in the end had both girls accepted (one off the waitlist) to the English-speaking campus of EIB (Ecole Internationale Bilingue). Now as we come to the end of our school year, I don’t think we could have made a better choice.
The girls were both welcomed into their classrooms, as it is not a rare occurrence for kids to come and go during the school year. While Piper had some trouble fitting in at first, she ended the year with tons of friends, boys and girls alike. Ruby hit the ground running, making friends quickly and winning “Student of the Month” in her first month at school. And unlike at home, where I feel like parents were pushed out of the classroom in kindergarten and barely invited back, here I was welcomed into the girls’ classes as well. Once a week, for each class, I’ve headed out to the school to spend a hour reading with the kids (or, actually, having the kids read to me). For many of the children, English is not their native language, so the teachers consider it extra helpful to have a native English speaker come spend 1:1 time with them reading. And I have loved getting to know Piper's and Ruby’s classmates. They come from many different countries, and are smart and curious about the world around them (and especially the United States)! Piper’s three best friends are from Japan, Ghana, and Russia, while Ruby’s two best friends are from Malaysia and South Africa.
Both classes have also gotten to go on some very cool field trips, for which they are always looking for parent volunteers. So I’ve gotten to go on free trips to the Louvre, the Palais de Tokyo, the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin d’Acclimatation, and the Cité des Sciences. For Ruby’s trip to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, the kids got lots of playtime on a playground in the park, took a long walk past cows, goats, and even bunnies, and then had a gardening lesson and planted some flower seeds.
Piper’s class headed to the Jardin des Plantes a couple of weeks ago to take a tour of the huge greenhouse there, where they got to see all sorts of jungle plants and even a petrified wood stump, and also visit the small zoo there (which is the 2nd oldest zoo in the world!).
Then, Ruby’s class finished up with a visit to the Cité des Sciences, a hands-on science museum with a very entertaining section just for 3–7 year olds. After seeing a quick show on how animals camouflage themselves, the kids got to run from section to section, playing and building with large bricks and dousing themselves in the water play section. Afterwards, we had a picnic lunch behind the giant silver Geode dome, and then played tag and mousetrap in the grass.
To top it all off, Ruby got to spend 2.5 days and 2 nights last week with her class at a farm about an hour outside of Paris. While at first I was totally shocked that they would take a bunch of kindergarteners away for 2 nights without any family members (and with their teachers!), in the end it was a great experience for Ruby. She was so proud as we carefully packed her suitcase according to the checklist they provided—what a big girl! Once there, she got to stay in a room with her two best buddies, and while they were at the farm, they took walks around a lake, milked goats, made goat cheese, and pet a bunch of baby animals. She came home tired but happy, and perhaps just a little glad that she had gotten to do something that Piper never has! In first grade the children go away for a full 5 days with their class, and I am both disappointed and relieved that we will be back in the U.S. by then!
In all, what I have liked most about their school experience here is that their classes have included lots of time for the kids to be kids—great field trips, with plenty of time for fun as well as education, one entire afternoon a week reserved for gym class or swimming, and long periods for recess and lunchtime every day. Here’s a schedule from one of the days I read with Piper’s class (a Monday, which is gym day):
Yup, snack, park, lunch, and sports were on the agenda for the day. Not that the 2nd graders aren’t taking tests—in fact, I think many of their tests were harder than back in Maryland, and are given back with the teacher announcing the top 3 scores in the class (!). But school back at home has sometimes felt like a joyless cramming in of whatever material would be on the state tests, with music, arts, and recess getting cut down to nothing. I’ve heard mixed reviews of what happens in France as the children get older, but for now, school here was a breath of fresh air.
And just like that, we made it to the last week of school. Piper’s class performed two songs at their end-of-the-year concert (unfortunately, the school has no gym or all-purpose room, so the concert was in the art room—hot and packed with parents). Each class performed a song inspired by the native country of their teacher, so Piper’s performed “Canada in My Pocket” (dressed as lumberjacks and hockey players) along with another one in French called Le Bal Masqué, for which they had made butterfly masks to hold up to their faces during the chorus. Ruby’s class held its own kindergarten graduation and performed a French song as well as a kindergarten graduation song sung to the tune of Grease’s “Summer Lovin’”. Perhaps not songs that taught the children fundamental musical concepts, but you know what? They were fun. Really fun. And sometimes I wonder whether we have not lost a little of the fun in good old Montgomery County.
Ruby’s class also made class t-shirts with a picture of the class from one of their field trips, and had the kids in the class all sign the backs. And after school was dismissed at noon, both classes headed to the park nearby for an informal picnic. It was a gorgeous day, the kids ran around playing, hugging, and taking pictures together, and I couldn’t have asked for a better end to our school experience in Paris. Thank you, EIB!