My children and I have been back in Oregon for three weeks now, but we're still savoring the seven weeks of school when we lived in Lyon this past fall. On our last worldschooling trip there three years ago, my daughter attended first grade at a private Catholic school and my oldest son attended a public preschool part-time. On this visit, all three of my oldest children attended a public school and like last time, they had great experiences. Here's what it was like:
To enroll my children in school, I visited the mairie (town hall) of our neighborhood and brought our apartment rental contract (proof of address), vaccination records, passports, and W-2 (proof of income, which is useful for calculating school lunch pricing and after-school activity fees). It helped that I spoke French fluently and could explain that we were enrolling to improve our language fluency, and that we had done this three years ago. It also helped that I had contacted the school director beforehand and had his verbal approval for enrollment.
The school director gave us a tour of the building and we were able to meet two of the three teachers my children would have. We bought our fournitures (school supplies) based on the list the principal gave me, including French trousses (tubular pencil cases), small notebooks of grid-based writing paper, and Velledas (dry-erase boards). My preschooler didn't need any supplies, though I later wished I'd brought him a small backpack.
The first day of school felt chaotic, with excited children and happy parents cramming into the courtyard, waiting for teachers to guide their line of students upstairs. My daughter's class of 30 students was the largest class in the school, though my son's petite section of preschool followed close behind with 28 students. My first grader had only 22 classmates, perhaps because first grade is considered a highly important grade of elementary school since it is the grade in which students are taught to read.
We learned our weekly rhythm: Mondays and Fridays I picked up my children for lunch, which lasted a whopping two hours and fifteen minutes, from noon to 2:15pm. This gave us plenty of time for outdoor play before returning to school, which let out at 4:45pm each day. Tuesdays and Thursdays my children ate lunch at la cantine so they could experience French meals as part of their cultural education. Weekly menus were posted online and outside the school, but I never tired of hearing what courses they had!
While my children were in school, I spent much of my time grocery shopping or cooking. This might seem like an exaggeration, but because of our small refrigerator (typical for Europe) and due to my need to carry our groceries home on foot, I had to grocery shop for our family on a near-daily basis. A small natural grocery store provided most of our staple ingredients, but I loved choosing fresh ingredients from the weekly organic farmer's market.
There was no school on Wednesdays, which were reserved as a mid-week break for extracurricular activities and rest. Activities are offered through the local MJC (Maison de Jeunesse et de Culture) and by private businesses (like the ice skating rink). We didn't sign up for any activities because they continue for the entire school year (and are billed upfront). I also wanted to leave Wednesdays open for playdates with friends and excursions to places like Parc des Oiseaux and the medieval city of Pérouges. I'm glad we had time to get to know our new friends better and to explore places around Lyon!
After school, at 4:45pm, it is officially l'heure du goûter (the only snack time in French culture, and it's mainly for kids). At school pickup I brought a snack for my kids and we'd walk to the nearby square or a neighborhood park where they'd join their classmates in wolfing down biscuits or a pâtisserie. The boys would often battle with Beyblades or simply run around chasing one another while the girls chatted or took up the chase. This downtime was a great way for my children to get to know their friends better, and for me to chat with other parents. These were happy afternoon moments outside and my children never wanted to return to our apartment!
Back at home, homework, dinner, and reading filled the final hours of the evening. The French dinner hour is around 7:30 to 8pm at the earliest, with bath time before dinner for the youngest children. Though I tried to adopt many French habits during our stay, I purposefully served dinner slightly earlier than the French so I had time to help my children finish their (minimal) homework, read library books, and get them to bed by 8:30pm—the time that seemed essential to my sanity as a temporarily single parent (since my husband had returned to the U.S. for work as we'd previously expected).
Honestly, I loved our life and the children's schooling in Lyon, and I'm disappointed that we couldn't stay longer. (Americans are currently allowed a stay of 90 days in France without a visa.) However, it's a joy to be reunited with my husband, and the conveniences of our home life in America (like large refrigerators, efficient clothes dryers, climate control, and plenty of home space) are refreshing to experience again. Nonetheless, I have permanent wanderlust: despite the beauty of Oregon and the presence of family and friends, I can't wait to live abroad again.
Where would you like to worldschool? Would you enjoy being in a nomadic family?