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Getting ready for the rentrée

If you thought it was tricky for adults moving to France, try settling in at school

The first day at any school is nerve-wracking but it can be even more so for English-speaking children entering the French system.

Even when they are born in France, preschool children of British families do not always speak fluent French, and the language barrier alone can be a daunting prospect.

Obviously then, the first priority should be to equip children with at least some French - especially youth slang terms that are not necessarily included in French lessons in the UK.

It is also a good idea to teach them how to read/send a texto (also known as an SMS). For youngsters fresh from Britain, it might also help to get up to speed on French culture: popular music and films, books and comic strips, websites and comedians etc.

As a general rule, television is not as central to life in France as it is in the UK. Music however is a perennial way of stating teen allegiances to various social groupings.

Buying all the equipment needed for French school seems strange the first time you do it and there can be a temptation to stick religiously to the school’s list of requirements.

You may find yourself buying items like blotting paper, blank music scores and Japanese calligraphy brushes without realising that they are unlikely ever to be used. A friend was once even asked to buy Superglue for her primary age son. Needless to say she wisely forgot to do so - and she never received any complaint from the school.

Some things will be essential, like biros and pencils, loose-leaf paper and files. However the best bet is to buy the minimum because after the first day or so, your
child will know exactly what the others have, what is really needed, which brands are cool and what is simply a waste of money.

On the clothes front most schoolchildren in France wear jeans, T-shirts and jumpers. The exact cut, colour and style of these clothes can be very important however, so on
the first day it might be a good idea to encourage your child to look as neutral as possible.

It will not take long for your child to become an expert in which jeans are cool and which are not.

Pros and cons of the French system

FOR a personal view of French school we spoke to two siblings - Mathieu and Emily Rees.

Mathieu, 17, went to school in France until he was eight and the family moved back to the UK. When he was 14, and they moved back to France he decided to continue his schooling there. His sister Emily, 14, chose the French system.

Mathieu said: “The main difference is in the UK there’s more emphasis on personal development and original thought and in France it’s about tradition and factual teaching. Going to school in France means longer hours, stricter teachers, less flexibility, and a much tougher marking system.”

His advice to anyone going into a French school? “Don’t get too demoralised if you’re on the arts side because there’s a huge emphasis on the science side in France.”

His sister Emily went to a French nursery school until she was six when she started school in the UK. She went back into a French school at 11.

She said: “Teachers in the UK are more open to ideas, whereas in France it’s all about the ‘programme’ [the curriculum].

“Kids in France are more cultural and formal. The kids in the UK have much more freedom, they come and go as they like but in France at age 10 or 11 you stay within the family. The teachers don’t do much creative stuff in France.

“The French system suits me because of the cultural side of things, the formality of the school. You study hard and the teachers don’t care so much about who you are; they just come in, teach and go.

“Teachers here teach a different kind of English to the English taught in England and teachers make mistakes when they’re teaching English.

“Fitting into a French school socially is easy. You have to be open and just go along with whatever is happening to start with and then say what you think later.”

Our top-ten back-to-school favourites

WE HAVE compiled a list of top ten rentrée "must-haves" with the help of Jérémy Bonnet, director of a neighbourhood stationery shop. Retail prices may vary.

1. Hello Kitty school bag
Perennially popular with girls, the Japanese cat has achieved iconic status in playgrounds. The bag comes with a reflective strip, adjustable straps and two rear wheels. €60

2. Harry Potter briefcase on wheels
Potter-mania shows no signs of slowing down following the screening of the final film. €80

3. Hello Kitty pencil case
Yet more from the hugely successful cat. €7.90

4. Dora the Explorer Pencil Case
Ideal for the pre-tween set. €12.50

5. Pilot FriXion ball point pen with erasable gel
A new range of refillable pens with eraser. €3 (refill €4.98)

6. Four-colour pen
Blue, red, green and black. Now made from recyclable material. €3

7. Titeuf diary
The Swiss comicstrip hero will enliven school days for primary school pupils. €12.50

8. Harry Potter file
Another feature of the Warner Brothers stationary collection is a hit with kids this autumn. €9

9. Stabilo Cappi, felt-tip pen collection
Innovative design where pen tops are attached to a ring so that small children do not lose them. €5.60 for 12 pens with free binding

10. Stabilo highlighter
Forty years old this year, the Boss highlighter (by German firm Schwan-Stabilo) is an essential item in pencil cases, from primary age to terminale. €4.09 for a four-pen pack

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