Background: Two years ago my husband had an opportunity to move from Paris, France to New York City (NYC). Our two boys were then aged 4.5 and 3 years. The move was to be for 3 years but we never gave the kids a timeframe since we wanted them to embrace and integrate the culture into which they were moving. Read the rest→
Prepping to Move: The immediate challenge that we needed to address was that neither of the kids spoke English! So we started introducing them to English books and also got some audio stories for them to get exposure to the language. With that process underway we also did a look-see trip to the US before we actually moved. Due to our need for more space, we had already decided that we would live in New Jersey with my husband doing the commute to NYC every day.
Finalizing the School: From the outset, even though we knew that we would be in the US for a finite time, we were very clear that we wanted our kids to get into the local education system. We were lucky that my husband had a colleague also from France who lived in New Jersey. So he was our first point of contact for narrowing down the schools and before our trip to the US we had scheduled appointments with three schools in the area – all private, with two of them being Montessori. Both kids attended a public school in France but based on our online research as well as feedback from contacts we eliminated the option of public schools. Public schools are not reputed to be very good in the area where we were planning to move.
The school meetings involved a tour of the school along with information on the specific curriculum and schedule. Since both my children were in preschool they did not have to go through an assessment or interview. Some of the criteria that we used to finalize the school were:
- Warmth and friendliness of the staff
- Student-teacher ratio
- School’s attitude towards my French-speaking children - the school we finally selected was very reassuring and confident in their ability to work with kids who were unfamiliar with English, telling us to slow down and let the kids take their time.
- Additional activities – the special lessons offered in the form of Art, Music, Spanish
The process was quite seamless and we were able to secure admission in advance of coming to the US.
Settling In: Overall we settled in fairly quickly. There were definitely adjustments that we had to make. We had lived a city life in Paris and now were in the suburbs where I pretty much had to chauffeur the kids around everywhere! I also had to quit my job to be with the kids. But it worked out for us. We really wanted to integrate with the people around us and so wound up making a very diverse set of good friends. Kids seem to take their cues from parents and the fact that we were both happy also helped them settle in faster. That being said, from a schooling standpoint, there were some differences that we adjusted to:
- Hours: School hours in France tend to be longer with breaks for play time in the middle. Kids are out from 8.30—4.30pm so by the time they come home, they’re already tired out. In contrast I used to be quite shocked when my two boys would come home after a school day, full of energy almost bouncing off the walls! Tied to this is the fact that kids here seem to be much more into after-school activities than their French counterparts and have a far more hectic after-school schedule.
- Curriculum: We found that the levels of math and reading were similar to what they were used to in France. One of the differences in curriculum that we found was related to writing. Cursive writing, even for younger kids is given a lot of importance whereas it is being de-emphasized here. Units of measurement, such as temperature are also different. Given that they are likely to go back to France at some point, it was important for us to ensure that they would be able to adjust back to the curriculum. So we have started working with my older one on CNED which is a French Distance Learning program where we get books, exercises and tests from the agency. My son takes the tests which are sent back to France for evaluation. This is a program recognized by schools in France and it will make the transition back a lot easier.
Ours is a hybrid approach - through the week the kids work on the regular curriculum taught in school, over the weekends they study material that French kids their age do.
- Lunch Time: While food per se was never an issue I did find differences in the way kids dine here versus France. French schools provide lunches and from the time they are three, kids are expected to sit patiently at the table, wait to be served and take their time to have their meals with proper cutlery and crockery. Mealtimes in the school are shorter here and it took some time for my kids to be able to finish their meals within the allotted time.
Advice to Parents Relocating:
- Integrate with the local culture – even if it’s a short stint, do not tell your kids the duration. Here everyone was so friendly and all the people helped and easy for that.
- There are several tools/workbooks available to maintain connection with the academics of your country of origin. So even if you’re moving only for a short period, it doesn’t have to stop you from trying out a local school curriculum.
- Language difficulties among kids can easily be overcome! They are far more adapting and resilient than we give them credit for.
- Explore and imbibe as much as you can since time flies very quickly especially when you move!
The author is a proud mother of two (and expecting a third!) who lives in New Jersey, USA.
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