A day in maternelle

Dear kids,


Today I had the great opportunity to spend the morning in a Petite Section class in the school where you, Son, currently go and you, Daughter, will go next year.


It was Daughter’s halte-garderie who proposes it as a sort of « passerelle » from « Petite Enfance » and the halte-garderie, to preschool/maternelle. We went with a lady from the HG, and as luck would have it, we spent the morning with the teacher that Son had for PS.


I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity, it’s a shame we didn’t have it earlier with Son, who wasn’t at the same halte-garderie as Daughter. But it just reinforced the positive image I have of French maternelle. I already was pleased with it, but any sort of doubts I had about the size of the classes, overloading the kids, or surveillance during recess (la recré) have been totally thrown out the window of the charming 19th century building the school has been housed in for the past 110+ years.


We arrived at 9am, where the kids were downstairs rehearsing their dances for the upcoming end-of-the-year spectacle. Son did this last year, as a matter of fact a couple of the songs were the same that he did last year (Enrouler le fil and Jean Petit Qui Danse). The maitresse and the ATSEM (a lady who helps the preschool teacher, also known as a « dame de service ») recognized me and Daughter immediately. We watched the rehearsal, Daughter you got up and danced a bit, and then we went back upstairs to the classroom. The teacher called the students up by the first letter of their names : « All children whose name begins with M, please stand up », etc.


The children sat down at little round tables and chairs and were given a glass of water. (Kids in French maternelle are no longer given a snack in the morning, they have to wait for their 11h30 lunch hour, so it’s important to eat well at breakfast). Daughter you joined them. Then the teacher called each of the children by the color of the table. « Children at the green table, please come to the bench », in front of the classroom, etc. This is a nice way of teaching children letters and colors, Also it encourages children to pay attention.


They talked about what day of the week it was (mardi, Tuesday), whether there was school the next day (no school on Wednesdays) and the fact that it was Mother’s Day on Sunday and that left them with only three days to work on their Mother’s Day project and to learn the poem to recite to Maman.


Then the children sat down at the tables again and got to work coloring little paper hearts which were part of the Mother’s Day project. Each child worked diligently and was given time to work at their own pace. Some children finished earlier and were then allowed to play with the toys in the classroom.


There were : baskets of Legos and cars neatly sorted under the bench, a play kitchen, a doctor’s kit, a baby doll and toy pram. Toy brooms and dusting bins, stacks of puzzles, a rug with a race track design on it. The children were interested in you, Daughter, and kept asking me what your name was and how old you are. One little girl sat down to play doctor with you, which you obliged.


By then it was 10 :30am and you could see the children were getting restless and loud. The teacher was firm but kind, and had to speak sharply to a few children who started throwing Legos. One little boy had to sit in the corner.


This was the perfect timing for recess. Normally the children go immediately to recess, but on Tuesdays a music teacher from the town conservatory comes to the school to do music lessons with the children.


I knew this already from Son, who has had these classes both years, but what a treat to be able to see the lady in action. She taught the children simple songs and body tapping, and had them tap on some xylophones.


Then she announced she had a special instrument who was very shy, and fragile, and we had to be quiet to coax it to come out. Then she brought out a large guitar-type string instrument and said it was from Africa. I believe it was called a kora, but I’m not sure. She said that it was made from an extremely large, inedible fruit. Then she played and sang a lovely African tune for the children, who hummed it down the stairs on their way to recré.


Then the children had a few minutes of recess. Recess was wild, but manageable. No worse than the playground. Daughter you were so happy to play on the equipment that you see every morning when we bring Son to school, but are never allowed to play on. The children were very nice to you and one little girl swung you on the bridge.


I was always concerned about the lack of surveillance during recess, but seeing it in action made my concerns go away. There are only about three teachers, but the playground is small and I never saw a situation that got out of control, or that wasn’t immediately handled by a teacher.


That said, I kind of still feel like, there isn’t enough individual surveillance, but do you know what Kids ? I think that it’s always going to be impossible to monitor every unkind word, every bruised ego. I think that is part of life, that we all will experience, and that we need to learn to handle in our own way. It’s painful, I know from experience, but the thought of too much surveillance is not quite the answer either.


In any case, Son, we watched you from the window during your recess, and you seemed happy, roughhousing with a group of boys. There isn’t much more that I could ask for.


So then the children who were staying at school for lunch went off to the cantine, and Daughter you and I went to Son’s class to pick him up for lunch. I was glad that this morning before leaving, I’d taken the time to grate some carrots into a salad to marinate in a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette with some minced basil while we were gone, and had thrown a few chicken breasts into the crock pot with some lemon juice and teriyaki sauce. All we needed to do was pick up a baguette from the bakery at home, and pit some fresh cherries for dessert.


I’m really so grateful for this day. It feels like an experience I won’t forget. Really getting to see French preschool in action. The teachers always tell us at the beginning of the school year, what the children’s days look like, but it’s so different to see it in action. And to watch the maitresse in action. I think that this is a particularly good maitresse, many people say so, but it’s so reassuring to see that she is firm in the French way, but very available to the children as well. Not belitting, not overly encouraging, giving honest praise to a child who did a nice job coloring their heart. Rewarding children who were well-behaved that morning by choosing them to be able to pluck the African instrument. I’m really so pleased.


And it’s so hard to believe, Son, that you are already halfway through maternelle. You will be in Grande Section next year, and then the year after, it’s primary school. As a matter of fact tonight I’m going to a talk at the American Library about the transition to CP, which is the first year of école primaire.


I’m so happy we have such a nice school a two minute walk away. What a blessing.




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