Do you have concerns as to whether your children are receiving the best possible education? Do you feel that the French school system could be improved, or that any school system simply can't deliver everything your child or children need? Are you moving to France and would like to give your children time to learn the language before they enter the school system?
If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then you may be interested in home education. This is a legal alternative to the conventional school system that is practiced by thousands of parents all over the world.
For more information on home education in France, please visit www.parentconcept.com which includes an overview of the legal status of home education in France, information on how to do it, recommended resources and information on conscious parenting generally. Wherever you're based, we also recommend Education Otherwise - a UK home education charity that provides a useful monthly bulletin, details of regular home schooling events in the UK and a contact list of other home educators. Education Otherwise is also an active lobbying organisation that defends the right to home educate.
In France home education is legal from any age. We're based in Montpellier, Languedoc Roussillon in South France and you can see more information on local activities in Languedoc Roussillon, etc. below.
The obligatory age to begin education in France is six years old, so before six, you're free to raise your children at home using whichever method works best for you and for them without needing to notify any authorities or complete any paperwork.
Once your children are six, you will need to register at the start of each school year at both the mairie (local mayor's office) and also with the Inspection Academique (the governing body for education).
We've heard different reports from different areas of the country (in Languedoc it appears that there's relatively little bureaucracy involved compared to some regions of France), however generally speaking there is then a yearly or twice yearly meeting with someone from the Inspection Academique where you are required to show that your children are receiving an education suited to their age and abilities and that they are progressing from a year to year basis.
Our children are 8 and 11 and the meeting has sometimes taken place in our own home and sometimes at the local Inspection Academique office. It has never involved any kind of written test for the children, but is more a meeting with us, to discuss how we home educate, what method we adopt, etc.
Languedoc & Montpellier
In Aude, Languedoc Roussillon there is a reasonably large network of home educators, many of whom are members of the MJC in Esperaza where we lived until recently, as we decided that as our boys are now teenagers, we'd move to Montpellier to experience life in the city.
We lived in Aude for 10 years and in that time saw that the homeschooling community expanded rapidly over time there. We recently moved to Montpellier and are now keen to meet other English or French homeschooling families for friendship, trips, games or just hanging out.
How do you home educate?
There are as many different ways to home educate as their are families who do it. Every child is different and one common reason to home educate is to adapt a child's learning environment to their unique personality and needs (whether these are special needs, or simply the unique needs that every human being has).
- Some families follow a curriculum not dissimilar to school and may spend a few hours a day in a 'classroom' type set up with either themselves as teachers, or hire private tutors to fulfill this role. In my experience, this is a minority of home educators.
- Other families practice 'autonomous education', which is a form of child-led education where the child determines what they want to learn and the parent(s) then provide the opportunities to learn it. This doesn't have to be a passive role, indeed it can be very pro-active and exciting. For instance, if a child shows an interest in space, then the parent might take a trip with the child to the Space Centre in Toulouse (or another suitable location), do research on the internet, encourage the child to complete a project about the planets, buy a book about space and read it with the child, or ask the child to research certain questions and report back (depending on the child's age). Basically in autonomous education, the child determines what he or she most wants to learn, however a conscious parent will then need to generate a range of resources that permit the child to learn these.
- Adopting an approach similar to Montessori or Steiner is another option available, or hiring a private tutor.
- Completing a Distance Learning course or using educational software and websites is particularly suited to older children.
- Life and Play - personally this is where I feel the greatest opportunities for education come from. You can learn about maths and finances from opening a children's bank account or from playing Monopoly. Reading and watching films and discussing why characters behaved in a certain way, how they felt, how their relationships developed, etc. is a great way to understand other people, interpersonal relationships and psychology. Meeting people from different faiths or cultures, or simply with a different outlook on life (and if you're not French and living in France, they'll be plenty of opportunities for that) gives children the opportunity to learn new languages, understand cultural difference and Geography, etc. etc.
While I personally feel that a more structured approach is necessary some of the time with older children, I feel that an incredible amount can be taught through life experience and through play, including many valuable lessons that aren't on the curriculum, but are essential skills for a child to learn - self-confidence, the ability to communicate, the ability to reason, etc.
A common question I'm asked is 'What about socialization?' Some people imagine the poor lonely children sitting at home with their parents and never getting to be with friends. The reality is a million miles from the truth. Our children often learn with other children, partake each week in theater workshops, karate classes, yoga and a board games night, often go skate boarding with their friends, or just hang out and have fun. They are also confident talking to adults and interacting with children of all ages, as they've never been taught that you only mix with children of your own age and that adults are 'authority figures' to either be obeyed or ridiculed, depending on the child's perspective.