Tuesday, September 20, 2011

La Rentree (The Return)

It has been three weeks now since "la rentrée". That time of year when all the French return from their month-long vacations and school starts again. This year was different for us in two major ways: 1) because of the new baby, we hung around town and did not partake in the August exodus. And 2) Owen joined the ranks of the school children who flooded the streets, backpacks in hand, on September 5th with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Owen started in the PS-MS class at Ecole Maternelle Leon Blum in Floirac. Ecole Maternelle is the French equivalent of preschool and is attended to by nearly kids in France starting at age 3. "PS" stands for "petit section", the littlest kids, who were born in 2008. Since Owen is a New Years baby, he was placed in PS-MS (petit section/moyen section), which is a mixture of the oldest 3 year olds and the youngest of the 4 year olds. There are 25 kids in Owen's class. The interesting thing about the first day of school in France is that you do not receive any information about school prior to that first day. Including, which day is the first day. You see, in Ecole Maternelle, there are 2 start days - Monday or Tuesday - so that the kids (and probably the teachers too) are not so overwhelmed by the new class and new classmates. So, all we knew was that Owen was supposed to start school on one of these days. So Sean called the directrice the week before and was told that Owen should be there on Monday. But that was all we knew. Not which class he was in, not where the classroom was. Nothing. And that made my own anxieties about that day even more extreme because how do you prepare your child for that separation when you can't give them more information other than, "On Monday you're going to go to big boy school"?

But the first day went off pretty well. A sign posted by the entrance gate to the school listed the kids by classroom. So, at 8:25am, the four of us walked to the school and learned that Owen was going to be in the PS/MS class and that the teacher's name was Maryse. Then we found his classroom through the "sheep method" of following everyone else. Along the hallway of the school, were coat hangers with kids names taped above them. We found Owen's name about halfway down the long hallway and, thus, found his classroom. Owen was so proud when he saw his name and he hung his backpack on the hook and took off his shoes like the other kids. Then we went inside the classroom and, right away, Owen's cardar (that is, his radar for any car toy) kicked in and he was off. Sean and I signed him in with the teacher and said goodbye. No tears from Owen. Plenty from me (though I managed to hold them in until we were outside).

French school goes from 8:30-11:30 then 1:30-4:30. During the 2 hours lunch break, the kids can either go home or they can stay at the school and eat in the cantine. The first morning, Owen only stayed until the lunch break at 11:30. Our plan had been that Owen would only go in the mornings until he was adjusted and then, around November or so, would start going full days. But since things went so well on that Monday, we decided that on Thursday (the other half of his class started on Tuesday and then French schools are closed on Wedsnesdays so Owen only had 3 days of school that first week), Owen would start going full days. This will help Owen pick up the language faster and make friends more quickly, we believe. Plus, we hope that by eating in the cantine 4 days a week, Owen will start eating more variety of foods (the rule is that the kids have to take one bite of everything at the cantine).

So, fingers crossed!