French education

The French way to educate that everyone should learn

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There's little room for coddling and praise in French education yet children aim for academic achievement and behave – is the secret the French way to educate?

French education has its own cultural code on what is the best way to educate your children. When experiencing the French education for the first time, some foreigners find the rigid, sit-still-and-listen approach a vast contrast to what their child was used to back home. But many benefits emerge from the French way to educate, which can be seen in independent, social French children. Here an American expat describes what she learned about the French education style.

1. Don’t expect to be coddled or cuddled

French teachers have one goal in mind at the beginning of the year: to teach their students a fixed curriculum that is pre-established and approved by the administration. There is little fluff in the French curriculum that is not purely academic. Especially at a younger level, children are not consistently praised for their efforts or small successes in order to build confidence. I’ve come to ignore the lack of stickers, stars, and 'great job' marked in the kids’ notebooks. In France, the style of teaching and learning emphasises academic excellence, discipline and diligence.

2. No open door policy

French schools usually have gates and once the bell rings in the morning, students are no longer allowed in. Except for the youngest students in maternelle (ages three to five), parents are not allowed through the gates even at drop-off unless there is a specific reason to speak to a teacher – and usually this is pre-approved. Communications with the teachers are done through a cahier de correspondence, or a notebook where school updates, meetings and messages to the teacher are written down.

3. Sitting still

French school kids are expected to sit still and behave in class, even at the youngest age. They are rewarded with recess three times a day, two shorter breaks and one long recess after lunch. The playground is usually a zoo with kids running around, laughing, shouting and getting rid of all the pent-up energy stored from sitting still for so long. As an American parent, better to stay away from the school gates and ignore recess, much less supervised than in the US, and often a Darwinian struggle for survival.

4. A brainiac not popularity contest

French children look up to the smart, academic students in class and strive to be like them. Popularity contests based on looks, social status and clothing brands are less common. Elementary students have a way of knowing who the best students in the class are: they often compare notes among each other outside of class and know exactly where each other stands in class rankings.

5. Handwriting is not a lost art

Take any fourth grader in France and watch him or her write out a sentence while you try to contain your admiration. The French put high importance on cursive writing (they don’t learn anything other than cursive), even grading it and making it a huge priority in the early elementary years. It is an important part of all their classes and school work, much of which is still handwritten.

6. Independence is a virtue

Elementary students often walk or bike to school on their own (from fourth grade onwards in general), or with a parent if they are younger. Independence is taught early on in France, so that by middle school students need much less of their parents for carpooling or other practical matters.

7. Five-star lunches

There is nothing but sheer admiration for the French for emphasising proper nutrition among all school children, in particular in the elementary years. Every day they sit down to a hot meal, oftentimes made freshly on the premises. Varied and balanced menus are pre-approved by a nutritionist and the children are given 30 minutes to eat (sitting down at a properly-set table), before going outside to play for an hour. The French believe that proper eating habits, proper nutrition and teaching children how to eat many different kinds of foods is essential to their upbringing. It is not optional in France. Food is an important part of the culture and local governments and public schools walk the walk with an amazing lunchtime menu.

8. Vacations

Although it is tough to swallow, the eight weeks of vacation French children have before summer vacation starts (usually another seven to eight weeks) are usually a big relief for the students who have long days (8:30am to 4:30pm) and weeks of academic rigor; they welcome the opportunity to relax their brains. The French expect a lot from their students but in turn they are regularly rewarded with periods to relax, unwind and forget about academics. 


Rebeca Plantier / Reprinted with permission of Matador Network.

Rebeca PlantierRebeca Plantier founded Fit to Inspire, an online community inspiring women to greater well-being regardless of age, shape, size or fitness level. Rebeca is the author of Lessons from France: Eating, Fitness, Family, a guide to French healthy habits, including tips, recipes, expert advice and anecdotes to inspire readers by the moderate (and delicious) approach to French-style healthy living. She is a Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen well-being contributor; her articles have been shared over a million times on social media and appeared in Elephant Journal, Business Insider,, EatLocalGrown, Salon and many others.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Julia posted:

    on 19th June 2016, 14:02:23 - Reply

    From where I am standing the author of this article sounds naive. Although there are many positive facets to the French education system, it is essentially a 'box' into which all are expected to fit. Those that don't are left by the wayside. I suggest Ms. Plantier read Peter Gumbel's books on this very same topic. And BTW, if the school system is so great, why are so many French adults miserable in their jobs or on anxiety/anti-depressants or in therapy? Has no one coming from this 'marvelous' education system made the connection?
  • Castagna posted:

    on 16th June 2016, 18:00:34 - Reply

    Most of the points in this article are correct; however, I have two non-French friends involved in teaching in France. One of them complains how teaching is about humiliating the student rather than encouraging them. This opinion comes from numerous sources. Why are the French so insecure speaking English? Because the teaching method does nothing to give them confidence. The other took a school group to the UK twice. The second time was horrible. The kids behaved so badly that shops in Bath had signs up to keep French students entering. At 3 in the morning the teachers were called to come and collect their students from the home they were staying in. Dream on about the wonders of French education.
  • 07091898 posted:

    on 15th June 2016, 17:33:50 - Reply

    I fully agree and one hundred percent subscribe to the article and its contents!