Monday, September 5, 2011

La Rentree – Back to School “French Style”

I’m exhausted!  I’ve spent the last week or so preparing 4 of my children for “La Rentree”  (or “Back to School” as we call it in England).  When we lived in England I remember having long lists of clothing for going back to school – school uniform, blazers, school ties and badges and an even longer list of sports kit – shorts, teeshirts, sports socks, tracksuits, trainers, gym shoes, rugby boots, football boots, running shoes, hockey sticks – sound familiar??  Apart from the uniform and sports kit though, there wasn’t really much else to get – a new bag of course, maybe some pens etc and a geometry kit and a calculator. 

There is no uniform in France – hurray!  There’s also no formal sports kit either – just a tracksuit, t-shirt and trainers seem to suffice.  So what’s been keeping me occupied for the past week or so then you may wonder.  Well we have the “Liste de Fournitures scolaires” which is basically an A4 sheet listing all the different stationery items needed for your child's return to school.  I could not believe the amount of things we have to buy the first time I saw one 7 years ago.  Here’s a copy of my 6 year old son’s “Liste de Fournitures” for his first year at the Primaire translated into English:

            In a Bag (big enough to put books sized 24 x 32):
                        Exercise books (without spirals):
                                    3 books 17x22 (double lined 2mm)
                                    3 books 17 x22 (traditional squares)
                                    1 book 17x22 (with plain pages for practical work)
                                    1 book 24x32 (with plain pages for practical work)
                                    1 book 24x32 (traditional squares) 96 pages
                        Plastic Book Protectors:
                                    Sized 17x22:  1 clear, 1 red, 1 black, 1 blue
                                    Sized 29x32: 1 clear, 1 green
                        1 file (not cardboard) size 30mm (A4)
                        1 Homework book (without spirals)
                        2 plastic folders with elestic bands (24x32) 1 red, 1 green
                        1 white board with pens and rubber

                        Pencil case complete with always:
                                    1 pencil
                                    3 pens (red, green, blue)
                                    1 glue stick
                                    1 white rubber
                                    1 small ruler
                                    1 pair of scissors with rounded ends
                                    1 pencil sharpener with reservoir

                        Another pencil case (to leave in class) with:
                                    12 felt tips and 12 assorted coloured pencils

                        2 passport photographs
                        A cheque for 15 euros towards maths and reading books
                        School Insurance Certificate
This is just for primary school remember - wait till they get to secondary!!
So, off I go to the supermarket with children in tow to battle it out with the other mums round the stationery section.  Of course they never have exactly what you want and there’s such a vast array of sizes and formats – big squares, little squares, traditional squares, blank etc.  Why can’t they just have plain lined like we do in the UK??.  Some with spirals, some without, some double the price for what seems to be exactly the same thing. Then you get the value packs of 3 which are never quite the right size or colour required. This year while I was working my way through the 3 lists of different items from different schools, there was another mother with a screaming toddler – I should have been relieved it wasn’t mine, but it just made me more tense.  Inevitably I couldn’t get all I wanted from the one shop, I then had to go into the main town and order the 12 books Ryan needed for his last year at Lycee – all with an average price of 30 euros! And why does he need a calculator that costs 90 euros???  Not only is it a stressful time, but an expensive one too!

Then of course there’s the shoes – school shoes and trainers for 4 children.  Ever wondered how many shoes are needed to be tried before finding 8 pairs of well fitting shoes that the children like and don’t cost a fortune???  Too many!!

I then have the mind numbingly boring task of individually labeling of all those items of stationery and yes it is necessary (even pens).   

And so we come to the long awaited morning – new bags are packed ready with all the necessary, everyone’s up early and we are back to the normal dashing around, Luc’s got no t-shirts ready (how can he have got through all of them in the last few days), where’s Frankie’s shoes? Have you brushed your teeth?  Breakfast, fill out the dinner tickets, check bags, brush hair, pile in the car and off we go!

Three year old Frankie’s deposited at the Maternale, she sits down to do some colouring and gives me a big small and wave.  Luc (6) and James (9) are taken to the Primaire, there’s lots of excited children in the playground with all their new “stuff”.  There’s the bell and off they all go.  3 down, 1 to go.  Later that day I take Ryan (17) off to school with his bags of books, clothes and bedding – he’s weekly boarding again this year.  And that’s it, phew!  But no, wait a minute...  That’s not it at all.  In the evening the 3 little ones come home with 3 long forms each for me to fill in and all the school text books need covering – and that’s my evenings sorted for the next week!  Thank goodness it's only once a year!


  1. How do you label a pen? Mind boggling and I'm now feeling less hassled by having spent the past two evenings sewing nametapes. Respect to the French (and expat) meres!

  2. I use little sticky labels with their initials written on to label the pens. Tedious, but quicker than sewing name tapes - I'd forgotten about that yearly ritual. Not so necessary here with no school uniform or sports kit, although I should really name all their clothes as my youngest lost her new cardigan on the first day back!

  3. Actually, we have those awful long lists in Canada too. Surely it would make more sense for the schools to buy in bulk and then resell them to the parents? Would be easier for everyone, and the school could even net a small profit.

    Nice blog, by the way!

  4. Yes I agree Tema - it would be much easier that way and at least you'd be sure to get the right sizes and colours.

  5. This is really interesting because I didn't know that going to an school in France we had to have all those things, I think it's too much, it is something unnecessary.

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