Note from Anne: Today’s guest post is from Michele Cherie, whose adventures worldschooling her children in France were such an inspiration to me that I asked her to write this post. I’m taking notes and planning for our own family’s future—hope this gives you some great ideas too!
As a non-native French speaker and former French teacher, I've been raising my four children in French since their births here in Oregon. When they were still very young, I planned playdates with French-speaking friends, read them scores of children's books in French (thanks to Les Petits Livres), and enrolled them in children's classes at our local Alliance Française. Nonetheless, it quickly became apparent that my children weren't going to become truly fluent in French unless I could create a genuine need for them to speak French. Ultimately, visiting a Francophone country and enrolling our children in school there seemed like the best way to propel my children's language development past the point of passive French comprehension to fully bilingual speech.
With some planning, my husband and I made that goal happen: twice now our family has spent three months in France so that our children can gain cultural and linguistic immersion, and the experiences we've all gained have been incredible. Our children have toured chateaux in the Loire, explored the museums and parks ofParis, and attended public and private schools in Lyon, making lifelong friends along the way.
Here's how we did it:
First, we opened a separate savings account roughly a year in advance of our trip. This helped us set aside the necessary money for plane tickets and rental housing abroad. However, worldschooling doesn't cost as much as you might imagine, since it's not an extended vacation but a choice to live like a local family would in that area of the world. We've kept our costs reasonable by arranging home exchanges (through homeexchange.com), renting apartments with kitchens and cooking most of our meals there, and staying in a single location for weeks--or months--at a time to lower our short-term rental costs. (Most Airbnb-type rentals offer lower rates for longer stays). We've even been able to use flyer miles to cover the majority of our airline ticket costs.
We decided on a city where our children would go to school. Years ago I was an exchange student in Lyon, France, so with my host family still living there, it was an easy decision for us to settle there on our first trip. My host mom was able to talk with a school principal to get approval for my daughter's enrollment (in first grade) at a private school, but my preschool-age son needed to attend a public preschool where there was room for his enrollment. On our second and most recent family trip to France, we returned to Lyon again out of love for the city even though my host family has since moved away. Some other options to consider when selecting where to live might include the weather during your visit, the cost of living and schooling, and the availability of public transport.
I enrolled my children in school. We had some help with this on our first family visit to France, but much of it I needed to figure out myself. First I spoke with the public school principal in the neighborhood where we were living in order to get verbal approval for enrollment. Next I visited our local mairie (city hall) and showed them our online rental agreement (with evidence of our address), our passports, and our limited-but-current vaccination records. I also provided a W-2 form as proof of our current income so the mairie could calculate the price we would pay for school lunches, which are priced on a sliding scale.
We jumped into French society with courage and gratitude. We toured the children's school and bought the required school supplies (which I blogged about here.) I talked to my children about how to handle teasing if other children mocked their non-native French, but their peers were kind to them, thankfully. The first day of school was fairly chaotic with happy parents and overexcited children cramming into the central courtyard, but I was proud of my children for courageously joining their new classmates and filing off into their classes.
Over days and weeks, I got to know other French parents as we waited to pick up our children at lunch and after school. My children made friends and joined them at nearby squares or parks after school, sharing snacks and enjoying the freedom to play. Just walking to and from school through our Renaissance neighborhood was especially enjoyable; our seven weeks of school enrollment flew by far too quickly. I'm grateful to the parents and classmates who invited my children to playdates and birthday parties despite knowing our stay in Lyon would be short. As we look back from this side of the Atlantic, I know that the relationships we made and the pleasant daily routines we formed made our worldschooling experiences worth savoring, and we can hardly wait to return again.
Michele Cherie is a francophile, teacher, writer, wife, and mama to four children. She is a non-native French speaker in Oregon raising her children in French, and she shares her bilingual journey and other resources at her blog, Intentional Mama.