USA: Differences in Education Systems, France v. US

USA: Differences in Education Systems, France v. US

differencesThe day I gave birth to my son, HJ, is a day I’ll never forget. Induction nightmare? Check. Post baby snuggles? Check. September 3rd birth date? Check.

Little did I know at the time how much my son’s birthday would impact his development and education but flash forward to 2013 and here I sit, faced with the first of many educational concerns.

Living in Paris meant that on September 4th, 2012, my son formally entered the French education system. At just three years old, he was invited to attend nursery school, or maternelle, which comprises the first three years of schooling. Due to his inability to speak French, my son was invited to attend school four mornings per week from 8:30 a.m. until 11:40 a.m. As he began to thrive in school, his teacher gently suggested that I begin leaving him for one full-day per week after the holiday break in December. By late-January, he was attending school all day until 4:15 p.m., eating French catered lunch in the cantine (cafeteria), enjoying rest time, and thriving.

Combining his easy going attitude and tall stature (95% percentile for height), most parents thought my son was one of the older kids in the class. In order to start school in September, children must turn three by December 31st, and with a September 3rd birthday, my son was one of the younger students. When I would share this with the parents, they’d say, “Wow, but he is so tall!”

Our plans for HJ’s education were that he would be in French school until we moved home, and at that point he’d transition into kindergarten at the local school. When our contract ended sooner than expected, I began the joyous task of figuring out what options we had to continue HJ’s formal education, and the results were shocking.

HJ misses the US cut-off for kindergarten by two days. This means that he has to wait until he is six to enter kindergarten! I neatly placed that reality aside and instead focused on what education he could receive now, at four years old.

My choices floored me.

Option A) the public school offers a “lottery” for kids ages 3-4 for preschool, and the schedule only allows kids to get one of three spots: two mornings from 8-11, three mornings, four afternoons, or five mornings. And all this for the staggering price of more than $6,000.

Option B) the local Montessori school, which has no openings until September of 2014, and again runs mornings only. Did I mention that they also refused to reveal the actual cost of the program?

And finally, Option C) a local Catholic school that offers five all-day classes for  around $7,000.

So what’s the big deal?!

Children in France have access to all-day education beginning at age three for FREE, with master’s degree trained teachers. While every school isn’t as amazing as the one my son attends, the French may be on to something. For two working parents, morning-only, formal education settings are an inconvenience, and for single-income families, shelling out over $6,000 for a few hours a day may be too much.

All around the United States, parents are struggling with making hard financial decisions and I wonder if it seems fair that we have to do so when it comes to our children’s educations?

For us, having HJ evaluated and exploring how he measures up to his peers is one solution. How he falls in the range of social and emotional intelligence will give us a window into how he may fair in kindergarten and will be necessary if we plan on fighting the school district for a spot in kindergarten if it seems logical and appropriate for our son.

The second option is to just ride the wave and instead allow our six year old to join his peers, perhaps giving him a leg up on his classmates. Then I question, “Will he be bored?” “Too big?” At this point I’m just not sure which choice is best for our little guy but it did get my wheels moving, wondering about the significant differences in how each country approaches education. What is it like for children in Germany, or Canada? Do parents struggle with similar issues in Sydney, Australia?

So please, World Moms Blog readers, share your location/country’s educational process! When does school begin? When did your children start school? Anything you wish you could change about your child’s educational experiences?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from Jacki, mother of one now living in XXX but formerly blogging from Paris, France.

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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FRANCE:  Preparing for Transitions and Change

FRANCE: Preparing for Transitions and Change

TransitionsWithAToddlerTwo years ago, I said goodbye to the 100+ friends that had started off as co-workers and quit my job in preparation to leave the United States and move with my husband and son to Paris, France.

Working in the mental health field, where burnout rates are a true reality and there are constant shifts in schedules and treatment, we had a saying; “Change is hard.” We said this a thousand times to help solidify the “change” in our minds and to mentally prepare ourselves for the differences between the experiences we had before the transition and the ones we braced ourselves for afterwards.

Change is hard. Again my family is faced with major changes as our expatriate contract is unexpectedly ending and we are returning home to the United States. However this time, we are leaving with a four-year old who attends school daily, has friends, and identifies Paris as “home.” Our son speaks two languages, prefers baguette to sandwich bread, and thinks everyone has gouter at 4:00 p.m.

When we arrived in Paris, HJ was only two years old and to him, home was wherever his parents and toys were. We had to do very little to prepare him for the transition, but realizing that he is now a little person with thoughts and most importantly, feelings, preparation to move back to the United States will take on much more of a significance for us.

How do you prepare a young child for such a big change? Do you tell them months in advance, or do you wait until the week before? Do you play up the excitement of the move or downplay it to ease anxieties?

As a therapist, and most importantly, as a mother, I feel it truly depends on the child. For HJ, waiting approximately two weeks before the movers come to pack up our apartment for the overseas shipment will be the right time. For younger children, this might be too long of a time frame for them to understand and for older kids, who are more emotionally invested in their expatriate community, may need substantially more time to process.

My son doesn’t understand weeks or months yet. He knows “now,” “soon,” and “later.” So for him and for children who don’t understand time frames yet, parents can utilize a paper chain by simply cutting strips of colored paper and stapling them together to form a chain. Each link represents a day; link enough to cover the amount of time you have before the transition day arrives. For older kids, they can write something they are excited about or conversely, sad about the transition. Each day as you move closer towards the change, you can rip off a link in the chain, and kids can visually see the transition day as it approaches.

Once your time line has been established, the process of understanding the change can begin, which can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The first is through writing a social story; this is a story you can write in a basic word document that will outline the specifics of the upcoming change.

For our family, we’ll talk about returning home to America, feature photos of our home in the US as well as those of preferred family members. The focus will be on what things will change for our son when we leave. Including pictures of his new school and perhaps of the teachers who will be working with him will be helpful. We’ll also emphasize the fact that at school, his teachers and classmates will speak English, which is a huge change for our son. Another way to help prepare for the upcoming change is to have your child participate in packing, allowing them to feel like they have control over the change. For our son, this means having him pack his own suitcase of preferred clothing and toys.

The second thing is to, in essence, mourn the loss of the experience your child has had. Allowing them to share feelings of sadness and loss in regards to saying goodbye to friends they’ve made is an important part of the process. Depending on the age of your child or their emotional development, it may be helpful to purchase an address book, gathering mailing/email addresses, as well as Skype names. For close friends, planning Skype dates ahead of time can be helpful and gives kids something to look forward to.

Another way to embrace and remember the specifics of the current experience, it may be helpful to spend time seeing favorite places, gathering mementos, and taking lots of pictures. Using online software like Shutterfly, you can create photo books for children to look at if they are feeling sad after the transition.

Change is hard, and by sharing this process with my son, I’m hopeful that I too can prepare myself for the transition from France back to America!

Moms, what are some tips you might have to help moms like me help their children with changes and transitions?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Jacki of HJUnderway in Paris, France, who is preparing to move back to the United States with her husband and son, HJ, aged 4. 

The photograph used in this post is credited to the author.

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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FRANCE:  The Ethics of Mommy Blogging

FRANCE: The Ethics of Mommy Blogging

IMG_3504About three weeks ago, I logged onto my WordPress dashboard and noticed that I had a massive spike in my page views, all linking to one post that I written about a year ago in a fit of anger. Further research lead me to realize that a German blogging news group had linked back to my post about the time I discovered someone was stealing photographs of my son on Instagram. In an instant, my small blog was exposed to thousands of people I had never met, and the thought scared me.

It scared me because now thousands of people I had never met now knew what my son looked like. What his name was. Where we lived.

When I started my blog on Blogger.com, it was to chronicle our adventures living in a hotel for 100 days while we patiently waited for our visas to be approved so we could finally leave the US for Paris. My followers consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and probably five co-workers from my old job. I never watermarked my photos and I shared stories about our adventures. I also shared stories about my son, sweet things he said or did, annoying behaviors he exhibited as he struggled through a rough international transition. Those stories were naively shared with the best of intentions; the idea that people are inherently good, and that no-one would probably read my blog.

Without the ability to work once we arrived in Paris, I poured myself into developing my blog. With each post, I became more and more eager to grow my readership, finding instant validation when someone would comment on a funny story I had published or when my mom would say, “I loved that post you wrote.” In addition to posting nearly every day, I attended a major blogging conference, got a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and so on, and so on. As my little blog modestly grew, I met more and more amazing people. Blogging became my everything, and provided me with the ability to connect with people while living thousands of miles from the only life I had ever known.

Right around the same time that my blog post on “Instagram Trolls” was linked, I read a few articles on how people view “mommy” bloggers. I began to think more about the criticisms of sharing your life with strangers, what should be kept public versus private. What truly hit home for me wasn’t the downside of sharing my life or how it might affect MY career, but rather how it will affect my husband and son’s lives. I have less to fear about what I write because I willing put those thoughts and ideas out into the world. However, the stories that I share about my family aren’t all mine…. they belong to my family, to my husband (who is a consenting adult and can provide his opinion) and to my son.

At nearly four years old, he doesn’t have the comprehension to willingly agree to posts that I write about him.

I used to think that just because my blog wasn’t mainstream, it didn’t matter what I posted because only my family and friends would see it. That belief was extremely naive of me, and I am aware of that. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the direction my own blog will take in the future.

It has opened up a Pandora’s box of the ethics of blogging… raising questions that I just don’t have a solid answer for. Things like “Should bloggers earn money by showcasing their children in sponsored ads?” “Should mom bloggers share naked photos of their children?” “Do the children of bloggers have a right to privacy?” “Does it matter if your blog is small or mainstream?”

These questions and countless more have caused me to put the red light on my personal blog. I’m not sure whether I will continue my own blog the way I have in the past, take it in a new direction, or delete it.

Mom readers and contributors of World Moms Blog, I value your opinions greatly. What are your thoughts about the ethics of blogging, especially when it comes to our children?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Jacki. You can check out her experiences as an expat in Paris at her blog, HJ Underway

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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FRANCE:  What to Expect When Moving Abroad?

FRANCE: What to Expect When Moving Abroad?

What to expectLooking back to my pregnancy as an almost mom to my one and only son, I literally had everything prepared for the first nine months of his life before his eyes ever saw the outside world.

Diapers and clothing gently washed and neatly lined up by size, ready for each growth spurt, each passage from newborn to infant and beyond. I bought “What to Expect….” for the first three years of his existence, pouring over every detail and mentally preparing myself for each developmental stage. I was ready for it all.

My planning served me well for the first three years of my son’s life, and then we up and decided to move to a foreign country. The “What to Expect” books were packed away in long-term storage in the United States, and along with it, my sense of direction as a mother.

We have spent the last year attempting to navigate our way through life in France when French isn’t your primary language, when there aren’t any grandparents to lend a hand, and when all that is familiar becomes a distant dream.

When we arrived in France, my son was 2 years, five months and together we plowed through understanding new social norms, French cuisine, and more recently, the education system.

We did this without a manual, and did okay without it. There were times when I just wanted to type in “raising an American boy in Paris” in Google to look for tips and clarity on what we were doing wrong (or right). If there had been a manual or how-to book, I would have read it 1,000 times and given copies to all of my new expatriate friends with children.

I wasn’t sure that we were doing right by our son when we entered him into a French school at age three (standard practice in France), when the teachers and students couldn’t even pronounce his name correctly. I wasn’t sure that we were doing it right when potty training took a huge deviation and we faced mounting laundry that took forever to dry on racks in our living room.

I know I wasn’t sure that we had done right by our son when he had a meltdown at a friend’s playgroup,hitting and kicking anyone and everyone who came into his path. When I had to pack him up early and head home, I may have had a meltdown myself. Again and again, I was looking for grand gestures in my son’s behavior as proof that he was adjusting appropriately to living in a new country, and I couldn’t find any.

Why do we always look for the grand gestures? Without a guide, we often get caught up looking for the big things and forgetting to spot the small ones.

For example, at 6 months of age, I knew that my son wasn’t able to crawl because he hadn’t developed enough upper body strength to support his head, which was off the charts developmentally. I knew this because the books and doctors told me so, and therefore I had an appropriate course of action to get him back on track. Having a guide instilled in me a parenting confidence that I knew my son and that we were doing everything right, but by whose standards?

Now, a year later and closer to preschool age than that of toddler, I find myself discovering more and more of the small indications that my little one is doing just fine transitioning in our new life abroad. I see it when my son doesn’t realize I’m watching and instead of saying, “Look, look!” with excitement, he yells out, “Regarde, regarde!” (Look in French.)

I see it when he stops to hug a strange toddler crying in the playground, or when he asks me if we can take an airplane home to see his grandparents and cousin. I see it when he takes my hand to cross the street but instead of letting go immediately, he gently slides his thumb repeatedly across my knuckles, something I’ve done to him a thousand times.  As time goes on, he becomes more and more self-assured and more at home being who he is. And no manual could have prepared me for that.

Has there been a time when a manual or how-to book couldn’t help you effectively parent your child through a unique situation? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Jacki, an American expatriate mother living in Paris, France.

The image used in this post is credited to the author

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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Social Good: Half The Sky, The Game

Social Good: Half The Sky, The Game

Sometimes I want my mom to read the things I write. Other times I don’t. This would be one of those times.

Half the Sky gameIn 2009, I connected with friends, old classmates, and work colleagues through Facebook. Long before worries about privacy settings, the idea of over-sharing  and all of the fun (and annoying) things that come with a Facebook profile, I enjoyed posting and sharing. At that time, there was no way to filter what you saw in your news feed  and honestly, I don’t remember feeling like I needed to “hide,” or “block” a type of post. After all, these were people I chose to be friends with.

Right around the time my son was born, my mom joined Facebook. Living 1 ½ hours away seemed like a lifetime to us both, so Facebook became a wonderful way to share photos of my newborn son and entertain myself during those first months when I was scared to venture out of the house alone with a baby. One day while scanning the status updates of my friends, I noticed that I had a lot of notifications, mostly from my mom for something called “Farmville.” Having never heard of Farmville, I clicked and joined, only to realize that what I was signing up for was management of a “working” farm, complete with sheep baaing in the background.

Farmville came, then Bejeweled, Scrabble, and then Words with Friends, and finally Song Pop. I was completely overwhelmed with all of the notifications I was receiving so I did what most people do; I hid them. To me, they were time suckers, distractions when I already had too much on my mind. But for my mom and other people, they were a fun break from reality, a quick opportunity to interact with others and then step away. While I received little enjoyment from these online games, there is an entire, massive community of people who do. Now what if you paired addicting online games with social good? (more…)

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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FRANCE: My Biggest Cheerleader

IMG_2211

When my legs felt like lead, I thought of them. When rain and snow pelted my face, I thought of them. When I closed my eyes and wished it was over, I thought of them. 13 charities. 13 reasons to keep on moving.

In September of 2012, still battling the war against the baby weight I had gained in pregnancy and losing (my own “baby” now three and a half), I decided that running seemed like a good idea. Except that in September, I had never successfully run a mile in my life, not even once. I needed a goal to keep me on track, a motivational tool to push me out the door before the sun rose on cold fall days in Paris. Armed with the idea that a half marathon was “completely possible,” I set out to find the most interesting, and difficult, half marathon I could find. A race at the Great Wall of China was first to leap out on the page, but as I scrolled down further, there it was: the 2013 Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania.

Later that evening, I said to my husband, “I’m going to run the half portion of the Kili Marathon in March,” and my husband, slowly raising his eyebrow said, “That’s great, but shouldn’t you run a 5K first?” (more…)

hjunderway

Jacki, or “MommaExpat,” as she’s known in the Internet community, is a former family therapist turned stay-at-home mom in Paris, France. Jacki is passionate about issues as they relate to mothers and children on both domestic and international scenes, and is a Volunteer Ambassador for the Fistula Foundation. In addition to training for her first half marathon, Jacki can be found learning French in Paris and researching her next big trip. Jacki blogs at H J Underway, a chronicle of her daily life as a non-French speaking mom in France.

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