10 Favorite French (and Other Language) Resources

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. While purchasing from any of these links will not increase the price you pay, I do receive a small commission.

Even though we are currently living in France, we homeschool mainly in English and follow the Ambleside Online curriculum schedule. However, being in France, we are beholden to their laws and must pass a yearly inspection. This requires me to include French lessons that fall in line with the French program. My children need to be able to pass an oral or written test at each inspection. I wrote more about the laws and inspections in earlier posts.

Nevertheless, I still want my children to enjoy their education and try to follow the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. Below are a list of my favorite resources for learning and teaching French that I have found online. Most of them are free though a few are paid. Here are my top ten in no particular order.

top language resource

1. Linguee

Linguee is a free online language dictionary which translates from English to French and French to English. What I like most about this tool is that they give real life examples of the words and their translations. This way I can check that the word I want to use has the proper meaning. Every language has words that can be used to mean two different things. With Linguee, it is easier to see that I am picking the right one.

Now this is a resource that is not just for French but for many other languages as well. Here is a list of the other languages that can be translated from or to English.

  • German
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Polish
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • Greek
  • Czech
  • Romanian
  • Hungarian
  • Slovak
  • Bulgarian
  • Slovene
  • Lithuanian
  • Latvian
  • Estonian and
  • Maltese

Not a bad list for language learning lovers (say that three times fast).

There is even a free app for phones. I’ve used it on both my phone and my laptop with the same great results.

2. Duolingo

In order to first learn those languages you want to translate on Linguee, I’d highly recommend Duolingo. This is a free online language learning resource. It is easy to navigate, fun to use and great for beginning learners as well as those just trying to brush up on that language they took for four years in high school but haven’t used since. (German, anyone?) The lessons are short, 5-10 minutes at most. They are offered as mini games or exercises in various formats: multiple choice, listening, speaking, or matching for starters.

I’ve been using it to brush up on my French. Though I’ve been living here for over 12 years, I still make some common mistakes and I use this tool to keep training myself to be better.

At the same time, my 7 year old daughter has been using it to learn Italian. No one in our family speaks Italian so this tool is great for her to do some independent learning. All my kids will be starting their third language around 7 or 8 years old or in third grade. With Duolingo, they each choose whichever language interests them the most without it breaking the bank.

This is another resource that is great not just for French but for a host of other languages as well. Here is the list from English.

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Italian
  • Korean
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Portuguese
  • Turkish
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Irish
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • Polish
  • Norwegian
  • Vietnamese
  • High Valyrian
  • Danish
  • Romanians
  • Swahili
  • Klingon
  • Esperanto
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Welsh
  • Ukrainian
  • Czech
  • Hawaiian
  • Indonesian
  • Navajo and
  • Arabic

If you noticed, you can learn two languages that aren’t even real. Hahaha.

A mobile app is also available and is fantastic. It is what we use the most because the listening and speaking skills are so much simpler to use.

There is also a paid version that eliminates all the ads, repairs streaks and allows lesson downloads on mobile. But to be honest, the ads aren’t really intrusive so I don’t see a great advantage in paying for that. Of course, you may want it to repair any streaks. Streaks are basically how many days in a row you have managed to do your daily lesson. Losing a streak can be pretty devastating (psychologically) when you’ve managed to work for over a 100 days straight and then life happens and you miss one day and have to start over. Ugh. And the downloaded lessons might come in handy if you have limited data usage on your phone.

3. Spotify

I’ve heard a lot of people in the United States like Pandora as a music streaming site. However, for those of us in the rest of the world, this site is not available to us. I’ve found an equivalent that works well, is free and is available nearly everywhere. This is Spotify.

I use Spotify for our music courses. I create three playlists for each year. One for our Composer Study, one for Folk Music Study, and one for Hymn Study. What is great is that I can find most of the songs I am looking for from the Ambleside schedule and from my own created schedule of French folk songs and hymns (or Christian music in French). We’ve even added Italian folk songs on our list this year for my daughter’s Italian classes.

There is a free version that has numerous ads that pop up and interrupt listening, much like a radio station. The paid version eliminates those ads. Since we use Spotify frequently and often listen to our composer study in the background while doing other lessons like copywork or art, I’ve chosen to pay for the paid version. The ads were too frequent and I couldn’t control their content. I don’t like exposing my children to the twaddle that is promoted today, if I can help it. The price is reasonable and saves us from untimely interruptions during some of the longer pieces by composers.

top language resource4. YouTube

I would be remiss in excluding YouTube. For all of the flack given to YouTube recently, though merited, it has remained an extremely useful tool for learning. We use it a bit less than some of the other resources since I try to limit screen time. But it still has a lot to offer.

Whenever I have trouble finding a song on Spotify, the first place I’ll look after that will be YouTube. There are even playlists created by other Ambleside families for the Composer, Folk Music and Hymn studies.

But what is especially great about YouTube for languages, and in particular French, are the channels for kids. My favorite channels on YouTube with French songs and nursery rhymes (comptines) are Boutchoo, also known as Baby Songs TubeMonde des Titounis and Les Patapons. All three channels have cute little animations of some of the most well-known kids’ songs and will often print the lyrics karaoke style so you can follow along.

You can also find episodes of popular kids’ cartoons in French. To search, simply put the title of the cartoon you are looking for followed by français. Often you will find what you are looking for and your kids can watch an episode they have memorized already in another language, turning screen time into learning time too.

5. Amazon Prime Video or Netflix

Video streaming is the new dvd rental. And with such great services as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, it is easy to see why. We can have access to hundreds of movies and tv shows without ever leaving the home. And the price is right. For less than $10 a month, you could virtually watch hundreds of dollars worth of movies on the old video rental plans, aka Blockbuster. And Amazon Prime is even cheaper on a yearly payment.

But what I like most about these streaming services are the subtitle and audio possibilities. We can watch original language films with subtitles or even switch the audio to English or French on nearly all videos. This is a great tool to have when learning languages. Often, when my children want to watch their favorite movie for the umpteenth time, I will have them switch it to French. This way, they are practicing their ear. Since they know the story so well, the language does not impede on their enjoyment. Rather, they are working the language center in their brains while having a little screen time. Win-win in my book.

I’m sure you could add Hulu in this group but since I’ve never used it, I cannot speak to its abilities or possibilities.

If you were to ask me my personal preference between Amazon and Netflix, I would have to choose Amazon. (Disclaimer again: I am an affiliate of Amazon. I receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my site though it does not cost you more. However, this does not change my opinion.)

Not only is it cheaper in the long-term, but I get more than just movies for my money. We have a monthly subscription for bulk items such as diapers and toilet paper through Prime already. This saves us money and frustration since we do not drive. Carrying large boxes of diapers is too difficult to transport without a car. And buying smaller batches more frequently can become expensive. But with Prime we have the perfect amount shipped to us monthly at a slight discount. Add to this free movies, TV shows and free shipping on other products, and I can’t think of better value.

As a sidenote, we did have Netflix for a few months to test it out. Though there were more choices available for us, I could not justify spending the money when we already had a streaming service available through our Amazon subscription. When Netflix announced its coming release of a new cartoon for kids titled Super Drags (about drag queen super heroes), I cancelled immediately. As Christians, I feel it is important to choose products that do not blatantly oppose Biblical values. A case can be made, of course, that all streaming services will have things that are not Christian. But, to me, Netflix was just too blatant and was beginning to target the kids more openly than the others.

6. Amazon

This may seem redundant but Amazon has been such as huge resource, I feel it deserves another mention. This time for its products.

I already said that we use Amazon Prime for its subscription service and its video streaming. However, before these were made available, I still used it quite a lot.

Now, to be clear, I mostly use the French site for my commands, Amazon.fr. Obviously, this is because we live here and shipping is cheaper if we buy local.

But regardless of which version you use, the list of products is astounding. You can buy just about anything and have it shipped for a decent price.

We like to have access to English books, not just for school but for pleasure. Sometimes, we can find the book we are looking for in English at the local library. Even more rare, we will find it at a local bookstore. But more often than not, if we wanted a book in English, we could only find it on Amazon. And usually for a very good price, considering it is not always local shipping.

My favorite product is the Kindle. With limited space and a strict budget, buying books for school can be difficult. We can’t always find what we need at the library or médiathèque as it is called here. I am a real bibliophile and love the smell of books. But I love my sanity more so my solution has been to get as many books as I can for my Kindle.

As an incentive for our kids to learn to read in both English and French, we offer them their own Kindle as soon as they have shown to be comfortable reading basic books in both languages. That they can follow along when I do read-alouds is an added bonus. I’ve found that my daughter’s reading skills improve exponentially when she does her own reading but can follow along with me as well. And we only have to buy the book once for everyone to enjoy it at the same time.

I’ve looked at the Amazon site for the US and can find just as many French books that I like available over there so if we were ever to move, I would be sure to be covered. When in doubt for a product, I will always check Amazon. Usually they have what I’m looking for at a reasonable price.

I like to support small businesses when I can, but being a family with ties in two countries, having a large company like Amazon available is a blessing.

7. Gutenberg

For those unaware, Project Gutenberg, is a website that digitizes old literature, specifically those books who have entered the public domain. They offer free access to over 57,000 books in epub or Kindle format.

Most of the books available are in English. However, there are a few books offered in three other languages: Portuguese, German, and French.

I am always looking for ways to save money and this is one option. Before buying any classic book, I will always check Gutenberg first. The quality of the digital copy is good. In fact, the Kindle version is so good that I can even change the font size and will sometimes have images. Only if they do not have it, will I consider spending money.

You can access the French books directly through this link.

8. Mama Lisa’s World

One of my favorite sites from this list is definitely Mama Lisa’s World. This website has an impressive list of songs and rhymes originating in over 200 countries and/or cultures.

When I was in Year 1 with Ambleside Online, I wanted to follow their suggestions for Folksong Study. However, I also wanted to add in French folk songs along with it. The problem was that, not being a native Frenchie, I wasn’t familiar with what would be considered the classics. Not to mention, teaching my kids the nursery rhymes and children’s songs every French child should know.

Sure, I found a couple of books at the médiathèque with lists of classic French children’s songs. But I could only keep those for a month, two at most. I wanted something I could refer to again and again without buying it, if I could help it.

And this is where Mama Lisa’s World saved the day. When I landed on her page after doing a few different searches, I was blown away. The sheer amount of songs and nursery rhymes she had listed for France was fabulous. Plus, she had the lyrics with their English translation and sometimes even an audio clip of the song.

Now, when preparing my monthly selection of Folk music in French, I immediately go to Mama Lisa‘s for inspiration and to print out the lyrics.

With the addition of my oldest daughter’s lessons in Italian, we have even begun using the Italian section to add children’s songs in that language as well.

I cannot recommend strongly enough this resource for music and cultural learning.

9. Collection Boscher

Now we are getting into the French resources in only French.

Because we must show an awareness of the national program in France (even if we don’t follow it completely), I needed to find a resource that would placate the inspectors while at the same time fit in with the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. This is where the Collection Boscher comes in.

These are a series of workbooks for grade school that give exercises and training in reading, writing, French grammar, and math. What drew me to these modern books over any others is that they have the closest resemblance to the old way of teaching. All the newer educational programs are much like the common core.  I don’t trust the methods and want to stay as old-school as possible, since I can’t easily go all Charlotte Mason here.

The Boscher collection is the best compromise. They have fun little workbooks for preschool and kindergarten with lots of activities and stickers that my littles enjoy doing. This is their “school” when the bigs have lessons to complete and they want to join in.

After that, each class from CP to CM2 (think 1st to 5th grade) has a book for French grammar and vocabulary, dictation (and French grammar), math, and Tout le programme (the entire program including science and geography). My kids don’t mind the lessons since we only do one page a day and we skip anything that is not compatible with their abilities at the moment. There is even a section for learning English which my kids laugh at while completing because it is so easy for them.

These workbooks conform with the official program so just by having my kids complete occasional lessons, we can keep up-to-date with what is expected of them.

And then there is a series of general books for no particular age that teach French history, the geography of France, an overview of science, technology, and regles de vie. This is basically lessons to teach kids how to be respectful and follow the rules, or common courtesy, which is included in the national program. As Christians, we learn this just by following God’s commandments. But since France has removed religion from education, and Christianity specifically, they were forced to create their own secular program to address the problems not being addressed by a religious education.

By completing these workbooks, we can show respect for national requirements without deterring too much from the real education that is taking place under Mason’s method.

And the kids enjoy them, which is the main reason I like them.

top french resource10. Manuels Anciens

My last favorite resource is also entirely in French. It is a website that offers all the old schoolbooks that are no longer used or even in print. Many of them can be downloaded as pdfs or images that can be transformed into a pdf.

I love this site mostly because I found the greatest method for teaching a child to read. It is called Mico, mon petit ours. It is basically a story about a little bear called Mico but written for the child to read by himself from the beginning. Each lesson introduces a new sound which is then used to create a word that in turn advances the story.

For example, the first five lessons introduce the sounds m, i, c, o, d, n, e, l which in turn create the words, Mico, Mimi, Coco, dodo, dîne, Milène, and comme. These are used in story form to introduce Mico the bear, Mimi the cat, Coco the donkey who then go to bed (dodo) eat (dîne) with the little girl who loves them, Milène. The story grows as the child’s knowledge of sounds and words grow. A wonderfully Charlotte Masoney concept.

And this is only one resource of many that are available. The only inconveniences are that it is entirely in French. And not all the the books are in pdf format for immediate download. Many of them need to be saved as images and then require a program to turn those series of images into a pdf.

But the entire site is worth it just for the download of the first two books of Mico for learning to read in French.

Conclusion

With the internet, we have easy access to a multitude of resources that we could never have dreamed of forty years ago. And more are being added daily. Learning a new language has never been so simple or cheap. The biggest problem now is knowing how to sort out the most useful of these thousands of possibilities. This list should narrow it a bit for you to keep you from being as overwhelmed as I was when trying to give my children an education in a language that is not my own.

Best Christmas Holiday Tradition

As everyone knows, the holidays can be extremely draining on the budget. This is one of the main causes of stress during this season.

But those of us with kids also know that Christmas is a test on our children’s character development. With all the ads directed right at them, it is nearly impossible for children, especially young children, to fight their desire for more “stuff.” They get greedy for the new toys they see everywhere that they just have to add to their list. Which is already 10 pages long. They can’t stop the feeling of wanting from creeping into every outing. And they can get angry when you try to let them know, gently, that it would not be possible to get it all.

When You Can’t Take It Anymore

And this is where I found myself last year.

My husband and I have always had to live on a pretty strict budget. Ever since we decided that I would stay home with the kids, we have had to watch every penny. It is not easy for a family of 6 to live on one salary. Especially when it is a teacher’s salary. But it was doable. Except around Christmas. We had to get creative.

What we usually ended up doing was buying bunches of little, cheap gifts. This gave the illusion that they were being as spoiled as every other kid.  We are pretty isolated with most of the family living in other countries and only one set of grandparents able to visit. And with the yearly move to another town for nearly 5 years, we didn’t have a lot of friends around either. So what they got from us was it.

Let’s face it. We all want to spoil our kids. We love the smiles and squeals of excitement. But it comes at a cost. And not just financially.

When starting the new year in debt became the norm with kids that were still just as cranky, we knew there needed to be a change. Not to mention, the piles of toys that were just gathering dust because they were lost amongst the rest. Or the toys that lasted only a month because they broke so easily. Our home was getting cluttered and dirty and we were all unhappy by the end of the season. It just didn’t seem worth it anymore.

Best Christmas Holiday TraditionChrist Shows Us the Way

But what really got me rethinking this consumerist tradition, was when I got back into the Word of God. It just didn’t seem right that we spent so much time and attention on something that had absolutely nothing to do with the real reason for Christmas. We let our children’s hearts be molded by a society that was blatantly unChristian. And we even helped it along!

So I started looking at beginning a new tradition. One that pointed to Christ and not to “stuff.”

And I came across a blog post that changed everything for me. It was from a blog called Blessed Beyond a Doubt. In this post, the author, Annette Breedlove, discussed her own struggles with the issue of greed. She offered a solution that just spoke to me.

Not only would it help us stay on budget financially but it would guide our children back to the true meaning of Christmas at the same time. She called it the $5 Christmas. Each member of the family would pick the name, anonymously, of another member and pick out a $5 gift for them. Then they would attach a personal letter letting them know how they felt about them.

This idea attracted me so much, I immediately called my husband at work to discuss doing the same thing.

He agreed. But we changed it to fit our family’s needs. Since our children only really received gifts from us each year, we decided to up the limit to $15 (or euros, in our case). This would be the sole gift for everyone. But the true brilliance was the letter. All the joy of the season and love for family could truly shine when everyone was sharing their letters with each other.

We had so much fun picking out the perfect gift for our “person.” Since all our kids were under the age of 7, we decided that we would pick names anonymously but we would be able to share who we got with each other. The gift-buying was done privately so that it could stay a surprise. And all except the oldest needed our help to write their letters. But the time we spent together was more than we had spent previous years when I would have to sneak out of the house alone to try to get all the shopping done in one go.

And let me tell you, the shrieks were just as loud when they opened their one gift as when they opened their multitude. Plus we added in more laughter and hugs. And everyone felt happy when their letter was read and they got to hear how special they were to someone else in the family.

I look forward to doing it again this year.

Free Bookmark printableFree Printable

And in true giving spirit, I am giving away a set of bookmarks to celebrate this Christmas season. Each one has a Bible verse about the birth of Jesus printed on it. There are ten verses in English and the same ten in French.

Each page has five bookmarks that can printed on cardstock or regular paper and then laminated (my favorite method).

To receive your copy, please enter your email below. Your download will begin immediately upon confirmation.

God’s blessings during this Christmas season!

Top 10 Reasons to Homeschool – Holiday Edition

While cleaning up the schoolroom for the 100th time since yesterday, I kept asking myself, “Why did I decide to homeschool, anyway? Wouldn’t it be great to just drop the kids off at the school down the street?” I even have the choice of two schools within walking distance, one private and one public.

This being the holiday season, these are the reasons I came up with:

10. Every day can be a snow day – even in Arizona.

I mean, who said there needed to be snow to have a snow day? Doesn’t feeling too cold to get out of bed count?

9. Daily Christmas movies can be part of the curriculum.

And there are so many good ones that we could even watch two a day. If we add a narration afterwards, it could still be considered Charlotte Mason, right?

8. Christmas music! Every day!

Not only could this be part of Hymn Study and Folk Music Study and Composer Study and Foreign Language Study, but we could listen to it while doing our Artist Study and Copywork and Handicrafts and so forth and so on.

7. You can start and end the vacation any time.

Yep. My Christmas vacation starts in September. It ends in May. Just in time for summer vacation.

6. Cruising the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas light displays can be a field trip.

And what a great field trip, too! So what if it provokes feelings of envy. The twinkling lights are so pretty.

5. Children fighting to the sound of Christmas music doesn’t sound nearly so serious.

The toddler’s screams almost match pitch with “Ave Maria.” What could be more lovely than that?

4. You can have a Christmas party every day … for a month.

Weren’t those days the best? Not only could you eat cookies and other Christmas goodies but there was usually a movie and gift exchange. Good things are always better the more you do them. Eating junk food full of processed sugar while getting more stuff can definitely be done more than once a week, right?

3. Pinterest!

I mean, honestly. Have you seen the number of fun activities that you can do during the Christmas season? You could do a new one every day for 50 years and still not even scratch the surface!

2. Decorating the house can be counted as an Art Credit.

Why stress about coming up with lesson plans for drawing or painting. Just have the kids decorate the house with the 100s of boxes of Christmas decorations you’ve accumulated over the years. If they can do it in a tasteful manner, they’ve succeeded at something even design majors can struggle with … using every decoration ever made by your kids so that no one ever feels left out. Wins all around!

1. Did I say Christmas music?

You can never have enough of Christmas music! During morning basket, quiet time, while doing chores. The possibilities are endless!

Bonus: Keep Christ in Christmas

But seriously, the best reason to homeschool, especially during the holidays, is this:

We can keep the focus of the Christmas season where it belongs … on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 9:6 King James Version (KJV)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 

Reasons to Homeschool - Holiday

God bless! Let’s keep Christ in Christmas!

What to Expect When You’re Inspected – Part 2

In this post, I described my first inspection with the educational department after beginning homeschooling in 2016 with my oldest daughter. I also explained a little about the legality of homeschooling in France. And I included a synopsis of the elements of a yearly inspection.

The Second Inspection

Since this decree was put into place between my two inspections, I was able to see a change in how these inspections take place.

First of all, we did not have our inspection for the second year until the month of March. This gave us plenty of time to be well-established in our routine and be well on our way to completing our work for the year.

Secondly, we had a different inspector and a different educational adviser. And they arrived with apparently no information on the previous year’s inspection.

Like the mayor’s office visit, I led them directly up the staircase to our schoolroom on the first floor. I had shut all the doors between the entrance and that room to discourage prying eyes.

I knew this would be different from the moment they stepped into the room. Now remember, this inspection is to happen in 3 steps.

And at no time is the child to be separated from the parent. This is as much for the safety of the child as for the inspector. Part of the paperwork filled out when a child is registered for school is to allow the school and it’s personnel temporary guardianship while in their care. This way the parent may leave their child at school without it being considered abandonment. And the school can make temporary decisions about the welfare of the child when the parent is not present. Homeschoolers never sign this paperwork. Therefore, leaving a child alone with an inspector (even in their own home) can be considered abandonment. And it opens the inspector up to a lawsuit should something happen to the child while in his care.

However, many inspectors, including mine, attempt to separate the child from the parent immediately upon entering the home or place of inspection.

The inspector asked me if there was a place he could take Vada to ask her some questions while I discussed our work with the educational adviser.

I firmly replied that we did our schoolwork in the schoolroom and that was where we would stay.

So they took their places, the inspector sitting beside Vada at her desk and the adviser sitting beside me at the other desk. But here is where it really differed from the previous year. Instead of politely waiting while I described our methods, answered questions and showed our work to the adviser, the instructor proceeded to ask questions of Vada. He was constantly barraging her with exercises while I was otherwise occupied with the my questions. I tried my best to protect Vada from this intrusion by repeatedly interrupting to explain we had not learned that lesson yet or that this was not how we learned. But he didn’t really get the hint. He continued the assault.

Luckily for us, Vada is a smart little girl. And I had prepared her as best as I could. Against my better judgement, we had begun working a bit on French grammar. Now, in the Charlotte Mason method, grammar is not to be broached until the 4th year when the child has a better grasp of the written language through reading and copywork. But I had decided to start basic grammar in French to try to fend off any potential difficulties with inspections. Not doing English grammar didn’t matter because they could really care less how we did our English studies.

Because of this, she was able to answer correctly most questions.

The Judgement

Now came my favorite part. The inspector shared with me his results of the interrogation. And the adviser shared with me her recommendations for the future.

It was immediately obvious neither one understood the Charlotte Mason method or listened to a word I had said. Their suggestions were both contradictory and unnecessary.

For example, they both seemed rather fixated on the idea that I create and display a large historical timeline on my wall. This despite my showing them the Book of Centuries we had recently started. I proceeded to explain that she could see much more easily how everything was connected with the Book of Centuries. And this was one of the basic tenets of the Mason method: to be able to see connections in everything. They repeated that she could see the connections in the frise chronologique (timeline). And I repeated that we were happy with the BOC and would stick with this as I could see Vada having a better understanding in this manner. This vicious circle continued for at least 15 minutes until I finally gave in and told them I would look into it.

To this day frise chronologique is something we joke about in the family when we talk about someone’s stubbornness blinding them to reality or to learning.

Another problem was that Vada could not recite her addition tables. Again, they showed their lack of interest in learning a new way of looking at things.

I had specifically explained that I wanted her to understand how addition worked by doing it over and over in different ways. I didn’t feel that she would have a better grasp of something just because it was memorized. And even though she did all her calculations for word problems in her head, and got them correct, she was actually incorrect because it took her too long to reason out the answer that a simple memorized equation could do more quickly.

Again, we went in circles as I explained that I wanted her to have a strong base built on knowledge and not memorized facts and they wanted the pony tricks of a traditional school. And again, I had to stop this farce by saying I’d look into.

My Takeaway

This second inspection made it clear that the educational department was truly uninterested in any other method or program than their own. No matter how poorly most students performed in this state-mandated program.

They also showed that these inspections were not truly meant to be a simple verification of instruction. It seemed more like a trial where I was forced to defend myself constantly. Where they were just looking for problems that only they could solve thus proving their system superior.

They came into my home with preconceived notions of what education should look like. And if my method was different, only mine could be improved upon. Regardless of what the results actually showed.

And if my kid wasn’t so clearly speaking and reading better in two languages than most kids her age can do in one, then I think we may have had a harder time of it. And we may still.

There is a current law in discussion to make the mandatory starting age of instruction drop to 3 years old instead of 6. And if this passes, I will have my first inspection in a year for a 3 year old. If they can find fault with an obviously well-known method of education such as Charlotte Mason, what are they going to do when I present a 3 year old who has no formal teaching whatsoever?

All I can say is that the future for homeschooling in France is looking very dim indeed.

What to Expect When You’re Inspected – Part 1

When homeschooling in France, a letter of intent must be sent yearly to the Education Department for your primary residence. No permission is required. But the intent must be acknowledged for the home instruction to be legal.

After receipt of these letters, the educational department sends an inspector to verify that instruction is, in fact, taking place. There must be at least 3 month’s delay between reception of the letter and the yearly inspection. And they are required to give a month’s notice.

As mentioned in my previous post about homeschooling in France, this inspection happens in 3 steps and in this order:

  1.  an interview with the parents concerning their choice of method;
  2.  a presentation of the child(ren)’s work;
  3.  and exercises in line with the method choices of the parents.

At least, this is what is supposed to happen. It very rarely does.

We Started Prepping

I began officially homeschooling in 2016, the year my oldest daughter, Vada, turned 6. Though she was still only 5 at the start of the school year (her birthday being in December), I was required, by law, to submit my letter of intent. Which I did.

Because of the multiple horror stories I had heard from other moms in the various homeschool groups online, we started formal schooling at the end of August. I was determined to be prepared (and my daughter with me) for whatever they wanted to throw at me. And I made sure I understood the letter of the law and stuck to that.

The pressure was tremendous because though we lived in France, our kids spoke mainly in English. I had never forced them to communicate in French with others because I knew that it would happen naturally when they were ready. Greg already spoke to them almost exclusively in French and read a book to them every night since birth. And when asked a question in French, they would respond correctly, albeit in English. We knew they understood.

But the state would be sending representatives into our home to judge us. I just knew we would fail in their eyes because Vada’s level in French was not the same as her government-schooled peers. They would never understand that in her native language, she was years above her age group. Plus we had never done any formal schooling before this year. I was trying to adhere as much as possible to the Charlotte Mason method which held that formal lessons not start before the age of 6 and to wait until 7 if at all possible.

Already we would be starting with Vada before her 6th birthday because of French administration. And I would be introducing new skill sets like learning to read or do calculations in English before presenting the same in French. I felt it was important that she read comfortably in her first language before attempting to read in her second. But this could work against her when inspection time came around.

The First Inspection

what to expect when you're inspectedWhich it did, rather quickly. I received my notice for our côntrole (as it is referred to in French) very shortly after the official start of the school year. We were to be inspected just days after Vada turned 6. And they were sending not one but two people: the inspector and a conseiller pédagogique, (an educational adviser).

Greg stayed home from work that day to take care of the other kids. I did not want to be distracted during the interview.

We were lucky. The contrôle went just about as well as could be expected. They followed the 3 steps: interview, inspection of materials, and questions to Vada done orally since I explained we were only doing copywork and drawing for most of our studies per the Mason method. I did notice they only took a cursory notice of our materials but since none of the questions were out of line, I didn’t worry too much.

They were respectful of our choices, seemed suitably impressed with Vada’s ability to read in English and did not have much negative to say in general. I was grateful considering Vada didn’t respond much in French. But they could apparently see she was understanding everything and that we were well on our way.

I thought to myself, “If it is like this every year, I guess I don’t have much to worry about.”

The thing is: it is not like this every year. As I would find out the next year.

The Rules Change But Not the Law

Having one inspection under our belt with a good result, I was not stressing too much about the next year.

That is until, the educational department made a decree that homeschooled children would have to complete exercises at the end of each cycle of learning (grade school, middle school, high school) to show they have achieved the knowledge and abilities required by the state at each age group. A decree is NOT a law. The law simply states that a child must have instruction but does not require any particular type of instruction over another.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. The government has a program, much like common core, that all schools must abide by. Teachers in public schools are required to pass an inspection of their use of the program every 3 years or so. If the teacher fails this inspection, he or she will not receive a raise in his or her salary and will not advance in seniority. They will, however, continue to teach.

Homeschool families are not required by law to follow this program. And they are to be inspected every year. However, should these families fail the inspection (using criteria often based on the program), they will have a follow-up inspection. This gives the family time to make sure they have applied any and all requirements. Should they fail again, they must then send the child to public school. Where they may be taught by a teacher who has failed but is still there.

Sound ridiculous?

Follow along with me here. Public school teachers are required by law to follow the state-mandated program. They are inspected periodically and if fail the inspection, continue to teach but without a raise.

Homeschooling families are NOT required by law to follow the state-mandated program. They are inspected annually and if fail, the child must go to a public school, or a private school recognized by the government and following the same program.

Read about my second inspection in the the follow-up What to Expect When You’re Inspected – Part 2.

Bilingual Charlotte Mason Method

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. While purchasing from any of these links will not increase the price you pay, I do receive a small commission.

First of all, what is the Charlotte Mason method?

To best answer that, we should also know a little bit about who Charlotte Mason was. In purely personal terms, Mason was an educator of the classical style in England at the turn of the 20th century. Starting as a simple teacher, she eventually became a lecturer. Later she started an organization (known as PNEU, Parents’ National Education Union) that provided resources for parents teaching their children and eventually created her own school (House of Education) training governesses and others teaching children.

But she was so much more than these bare facts. Her philosophy shaped a whole new way of looking at education. Not as well-known as other educators of her time that have been co-opted by the mainstream, she is nonetheless continually gaining a larger following around the world.

Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) are two such contemporaries. For a quick comparison of Montessori and Mason, go here. For Steiner and Mason, click here. While I don’t entirely agree with the assessments, they are fairly just in showing the differences. Of course, they were written by supporters of the other methods so…

Charlotte Mason Philosophy

So now that we know a little about her, what about her method?

This is a complicated answer. And would take longer than one post to cover. Mason, herself, wrote six volumes explaining it. So I’ll just try to narrow it down as much as possible for you.

Followers of Charlotte Mason would agree that essentially the belief is that children are people with individual personalities and interests from birth. The goal then is to educate not just their minds as a blank slate (the famous tabula rasa we’ve all heard about) but to fill it with living books that will then shape what is already there.

But education is more than just what can be found in books. It is also a training of the character or habits. Life skills are taught alongside history, grammar and math because their importance is just as great. And don’t forget nature study and the arts.

There is a pretty good breakdown of Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell found here. Another great resource if you are interested and want a quick overview can be found in the book A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. This was the first book I read after deciding that the CM method was how I wanted to educate my children. It is compact and gives great simple explanations for the different aspects of the method. And here is another quick explanation of the Charlotte Mason method on another well-known website Simply Charlotte Mason.

But there is no substitute for reading all six volumes written by Mason herself. They are not the easiest of reads because they are so full of good information. And because they are written in the style of late 19th century writers. However, you do not need to read them all in order to start. I, personally, have only finished the first.

Deciding on a Method

If you are unsure if this style is a good fit for you, here is a great Homeschool Style Quiz that might help you find where you are more likely to fit. I got 26% Charlotte Mason Homeschooler with Unschooler being a close second at 24%.

Here’s another Homeschool Philosophy Quiz. For this one I scored a 25 for Charlotte Mason with Classical Education close behind at 24. My third match was a tie between Montessori and Unschooling.

Clearly, this shows Charlotte Mason is my best fit. In my opinion, she is a great combination of both the Classical Education style and Unschooling taking the best of both and adding her own stuff into the mix.

Ambleside Online

After deciding to use this method, I had two decisions to make. What curriculum would I use? And how would I make it bilingual?

The first question was easier to answer than the second. Since my budget was pretty limited, I needed to find something that would be as close to free as possible. Using living books that are often classics was a great starting point. Many such books can be found for free at Project Gutenberg.

Ambleside Online fit my requirements to a tee. Not only are they a great resource for lists of living books recommended by Charlotte Mason but they have so generously partitioned them to the different grades or age groups. And they offer all this for free. All that I needed to do was buy the suggested books from each schedule. And as I had mentioned earlier, many of them could be found at Gutenberg free of charge. If I was in the US, I could even find many of them at the local library.

However, being in France, I needed an option that would allow me access to great books in English without paying an arm and a leg. By purchasing a basic Kindle, I was able to then stock my “schoolroom” with great books without taking too much space or paying too much money.

Of course, some books need to be purchased in hard copy and shipped to me. But being a lover of books, this is not a hardship. It only adds to the charm when we get to snuggle together in front of a “real” book.

I also love the fact that once my children can read, we get them their own Kindle. By doing this, I can read aloud while they follow along. In my opinion, this only enhances their reading abilities. I’m not a big fan of screens for kids but some of the problems involving “blue light” is avoided because we only use the Kindle Paperwhite and not Kindle Fire.

Making it Bilingual

bilingual charlotte mason method

But here’s where the second question made things difficult. I wanted to offer the same advantages of the Charlotte Mason method in both languages that my children speak. The English part was easily achieved. The French part would be more difficult.

Not only am I fairly restricted by the legal aspects of homeschooling in France, but it was hard to find much about this method within the French homeschooling associations or even at the local library. It is fairly unknown. I have found a few blogs by French homeschoolers interested in this method. But many of them have created lists with those already used by English or American groups. I didn’t want my kids reading James Herriot or Rudyard Kipling or Shakespeare in French. I wanted them to read the living books in their original language where possible. What I really needed was a list of living books written by French authors.

And this is where my own education really began.

Not being a native to France, I did not grow up with any classic childhood books, authors, poets or even folk songs. I know the big ones: Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant. But I didn’t know the French equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Thornton Burgess or H.E. Marshall.

I started by having my children read the books from the Ambleside lists not written originally in English as their French books. Books like Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (known as Fifi Brindacier in French). And I’ve scoured used book sales and the local library for inspiration for others. Sometimes I’ve made wonderful discoveries like the series of books by Cathy Bernheim, Isabelle, petite comtesse and Agnes. Others have been a huge flop.

But beyond using living books in French. I’ve simply applied the concepts of the Charlotte Mason education such as narration and copywork to our work in French.

In order to put it all together, I decided it would be better for us to split our work on a daily basis to French and English work. I know that many bilingual schools like to have days with classes only in English and other days only in French. But I felt it would help my children be better able to cope with the constant switching of languages they already do by having their learning in both languages daily.

How Bilingual Kids Really Live

Simply put, kids in bilingual families can be constantly surrounded by their two languages. But one language is always stronger, usually that of the mother. So though my children were born and raised here in France, they are more comfortable with the English language. This is a result of making the conscious decision to have me speak only in English to them and my husband only in French. Because I am the primary caregiver and spend more time with them as a stay-at-home mom, the kids naturally picked up English first.

Though they understand perfectly well everything their father says to them from a very early age, none of them could answer with more than a monosyllable in French until around 5 years old when there was a click. Because of this, we have had to make a conscious effort in their French schooling. Having the yearly inspections forces us to pay closer attention to their learning in the French area.

I don’t compromise though. When learning to read, I wait until the kids are comfortably reading in English before starting French reading lessons. New concepts in math or science are approached first in English then reintroduced in French. And though I may read them books at or above their reading and comprehension levels in English, I will often read at or just under in French. At least, until their vocabularies start to equalize. This can happen anytime during the elementary school years.

The beauty of the Charlotte Mason educational method is that it is perfectly adaptable to bilingual education. She even made it a requirement for her students to start learning a second language immediately upon entering school at the age of 6 or 7. And that language was French.

Basics of Language Learning

We know that to learn any language there are 4 elements involved:

  1. Hearing the language,
  2. Reading the language,
  3. Speaking the language, and
  4. Writing the language.

With much of the method revolved around books, learning a new language (or improving on a second one) becomes much easier and more natural.

Since this method is so involved, I will explain in another post some of the actual resources I have found to implement the Charlotte Mason method in French and how I’ve had to tweak it to pass the yearly inspections with minimal fuss.

Staying Organized for the Busy Mom

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. While purchasing from any of these links will not increase the price you pay, I do receive a small commission.
I LOVE planners!

As a homeschooling mom with 4 young children, planners are a life saver. Literally. Between the appointments, activities schedule and to do list, there is so much going on any given day. Without some way to track it all, I can easily get lost.

But here’s the problem. Planners are generic. Planners are created to satisfy the masses. They are either extremely detailed or so basic even the months aren’t labeled. But no matter the type, they are static. Unchangeable.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the features you can find on some planners. And I love the ease and practicality of having something all ready for me to just fill out. (I’m one of those Lego builders that always has to follow the directions.) But let’s face it. Life is not so cut and dried.

For years, I would look forward to buying the new planner in December only to be frustrated with it by February. Or when living on a school year schedule, I would buy the planner in August in excitement only to see all of its flaws by November. The final straw was when I moved to France and had to start using a planner (or agenda) here. It’s not that they were of a lesser quality. On the contrary, I found some great family agendas that had some wonderful features.

But I’m an American. I’m still more comfortable making notations in English than French. I like being able to see my content in English at a glance.

Buying a planner in English didn’t solve these problems. I was living in France, after all. The beauty of the French planner was having the calendar set up in the manner of the French. I needed a combination of the two. French content written in English. Aside from creating my own planner, I just did not see that happening.

Bullet Journaling to the Rescue

Staying Organized for Busy MomsAnd then I came across this book, Brainbook: Bullet Journaling Your Way to a More Organized Life by Kalyn Brooke. This was a game changer. I finally found a system that could work for my own unique life. Using this method, I could have a planner set up like the French agendas but written in English. AND I could add personal content.

No more sticky notes or papers pinned to my bulletin board. No more planners bought and only half-filled (or less) at the end of the year. I had everything I had always wanted in an organizer. And the beauty was that I did not even need to be artistic or a professional designer! The planner could be as simple or as complex as I wanted. If I started a month with a simple layout but decided I wanted to change half-way through? Done. As simple as that. Every page was a new beginning.

I’ve been using a bullet journal (or bujo as it is known in the community) for about a year now and I love it as much now as I did the first time I opened up my simple store-bought notebook and tried it out. I’ve even changed the layout about 5 times! I haven’t found the perfect fit for my life but what is fantastic is that I don’t even need to. Life changes constantly, especially in a family with small children. And so can the bullet journal.

Plus it was so easy to start! Brainbook did such a fantastic job of explaining the whys and hows. I finished reading it in one sitting and by the end was ready to start my own bujo. This shocked me because I am usually a perfectionist and need things to be just right before starting anything. But Kalyn did such a great job explaining all the positive aspects that I had no fear starting my first one in just a simple school notebook. I did use a pencil for the first 3 months though. You can’t cure perfectionism completely, after all.

Modern Commonplace Book

But the bujo is more than just a tool for organization; it is also a record of what my life was like at any given moment. They are worth keeping because I’ve put my life into those pages. Not just what appointments I had but collections of things my kids said and what books I read among other things.

And this reminds me of what is often referred to as the commonplace book in Charlotte Mason circles. We use this book as a journal of thoughts, quotes or other gatherings of words. It can be as simple or as fancy as you choose. And this concept has been around for a long time. It’s been used by such people as Thomas Jefferson and Charlotte Mason herself.

To me, the bujo is our modern version of this. Not only can we write the quotes and thoughts that delight us in these journals but we can keep track of our increasingly busy lives right alongside without missing a beat.

Can your store bought planner do this?

Interview with the Mayor’s Office

Ah! The joys of French administration.

In this post, I explained the legal requirements of homeschooling in France. After sending a letter of intent to the Mayor’s office in the place of residence, they would then send a delegate every 2 years starting the first year of homeschooling.

If you remember, they are to verify 3 things:

  • reasons for homeschooling
  • names and ages of children
  • activities practiced outside of the home by the children

And they are to visually verify the family’s means to homeschool (designated learning area, books, papers, pens, etc.) These are basically for census purposes.

It is stipulated on the website for the Department of Education in France (found here) that this visit is to be performed by someone in the mayor’s office. It can be performed by other government services but only when exceptionally this can not be done in a timely manner. This means that case workers or any employee from the social services should not be called to perform this duty unless it cannot be done by the mayor’s office. This would happen in such cases where the village is so small, there are no employees other than the Mayor and the secretary/ receptionist. In this case, it is acceptable to call the prefecture which is the main administrative branch of the whole department (think county administration).

My Experience

I live in Calais. One of the largest cities in the Pas de Calais department in the north of France. We have a population of around 76,000. It is a major hub of trade between England and France and as such has a large Mayor’s office. Despite this, when I received my notification for the enquête du maire (Mayor’s survey), it came from the social services office for the Pas de Calais department.

This, of course, immediately put me on edge. They would be sending me a case worker, someone whose job it was to investigate abuse in the family.

I received the letter at the beginning of the school year for an interview date in early December. That entire month was stressful as I continually questioned why they were sending a case worker. Was I flagged for some reason? Did someone denounce me and my family? I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. It was only through a lot of prayer that I was even able to make it with any semblance of calm.

The Day Arrives

The morning of the visit, Greg stayed home to keep an eye on the 3 younger kids. No way was I going to risk a bad review simply because I had a toddler and 2 preschoolers unattended by me during the interview. Or acting out because of the stress of having a stranger in the house. Or just simply acting as littles do. By law, only the child being homeschooled was required to be in attendance with the parent in charge of the instruction.

Our case worker arrived right on time. I politely invited her into our home and asked her to follow me up the stairs to the first floor where we had created our own schoolroom. I had closed off every door between the entrance and the schoolroom and had made sure that the path upstairs was as clean as possible. First impressions count the most, right?

I introduced V (my oldest) to Mme X (I’ve disguised names to protect the innocent and keep legal issues at bay)  and offered her my own comfortable desk chair. I had predominantly placed a printed page of the dos and don’ts of this official visit. When she explained how the visit would be conducted, I quickly referred her to this document to inform her that we would not be passing any limits. I was determined to adhere strictly to the regulations (something I didn’t do for the inspection).

She began by explaining that she was the liaison for the social services department to all homeschooling families in the Calais area. (This has to be a small part of her job as there are only 2 or 3 such families currently active in the area.)

This did not make me feel any more comfortable. I still was unaware of her personal views towards home education. No matter the official policy of government agencies, employees are humans. As such, they have the same prejudices as anyone. Were hers favorable or unfavorable?

 

The Official Interview

She started by asking the names and ages of all my children. I was leery of giving out this information. But since my own document did not specify whose names and ages I was legally required to divulge, I reluctantly complied. She seemed understanding of my friendly but reserved attitude.

As usual, I had to explain the origins of our kids’ names (mostly English in origin and thus unknown by the majority of the French). I also had to explain my accent. I cannot have a conversation with anyone here without the comment that I must be from England. Nope. American.

Anyway, I explained that we wanted, first and foremost, a bilingual education for our children. I’m kicking myself now for not saying it was for religious reasons. I had been too cowed by my fears of reprisals to stand up for my faith. I will NOT make that mistake again.

It was then that the conversation turned friendly. And she took over.

It Becomes a Chat Session

For the next two hours, Mme X proceeded to gush about how wonderful it was to finally have a visit with a non-dysfunctional family. That she was overjoyed to talk with an intelligent parent. That it was refreshing to see a child obviously loved and taken care of. That we could have made no better choice in her eyes.

Whew.

She recounted some of the sad tales she dealt with on a regular basis. Of the baby removed recently from a father that she had followed since his infancy. The number of children neglected or mistreated in the city of Calais was overwhelming. And that was her daily job.

For those who don’t know, Calais is one of the poorest cities in the poorest region in all of France. Up to 3 generations of some families have never known work. One third of all its inhabitants live in government assisted housing.

Obviously, she needed to vent. She seemed burnt out and I was the bright spot in her year. Glad I could help.

Normally these visits are over in less than 1/2 an hour. Some take 5 minutes over the telephone. Mine lasted nearly 3 hours. By the end, I think she was hoping they would change the law to make these visits yearly. As it is, she would have to wait 2 years again to see the ray of sun in her otherwise gloomy existence. Or so I imagined by her manner.

And this is to be the first of many such visits should we continue to homeschool in France. I look forward to the next one a year from now.

Should I have refreshments?

Homeschooling in France

 

homeschooling in france

There is a lot of information out there about how to homeschool in the United States. One of the best resources is the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) which has compiled all the legal information necessary to homeschool in each of the 50 states. There are also a large number of websites and blogs dedicated to homeschooling in the United States.

These sites have information about different styles, methods, curriculum and resources. You can find tools to help you in your journey that are both paid and free. This plethora of information can seem daunting at the beginning but it can be extremely helpful when just starting out. It gives every person the ability to make their own decision how to educate their children.

In France, however, this information is not as easy to obtain. Because the phenomena of homeschooling is relatively new in this country, the number of sites is much less.

French Homeschooling Associations

There are, of course, the usual homeschool associations. But they are often small, run by volunteers and not nearly as organized as the HSLDA. Some of the better known are Les Enfants D’Abord (LED’A) of which I am a member, Libres d’Apprendre et d’Instruire Autrement (LAIA), Choisir d’Instruire Son Enfant (CISE), Parents Instructeurs de France (PIF), Union Nationale pour l’Instruction et l’Epanouissement (UNIE), a group called Collect’IEF and a website Le Portail de l’Instruction En Famille. These websites direct you in the legal requirements of homeschooling with links to some resources like films and articles about homeschooling or testimonials from current homeschooling families.

The biggest difficulty comes in choosing what method to use or “how to” homeschool. I was lucky to be able to do searches in English and finally come across a style that resonates with our family, that of using the Charlotte Mason method. But the French are not as lucky in their information. Most families I know use a mixture of Montessori and the official program of the public school system though this is changing. As the number of families choosing to educate their own children grows, so does the number of different types of schooling.

chalkboard homeschooling in france

Legal Homeschooling Requirements

In order to homeschool, each family must declare their intent to homeschool with the branch of the educational department in their region or departement and with the mayor’s office in their place of residence. These letters must be sent every year, starting the calendar year of the child’s 6th birthday until their 16th birthday. There is currently a law in deliberation that would change the age to 3 instead of 6 years old. This could take effect as early as September of 2019.

Once these letters of intent have been sent, the parent is then free to educate their child in the method of their choosing. This is also in debate as the government would like to control the progress of each child to fit that set up by the system.

The mayor’s office sends delegate every other year to verify 3 things:

  • the reasons for homeschooling
  • the names and ages of the children
  • and any activities the children participate in outside of the home.

They must also verify visually the means of the family to homeschool, ie. a dedicated space for learning, books, pencils, paper, etc.

The inspection by the department of education (l’Education Nationale) takes place yearly and is to verify that there is instruction taking place. This inspection also has 3 parts:

  1.  an interview with the parents concerning their choice of method
  2.  a presentation of the completed work of each child
  3.  exercises in line with the method choices of the parents

This is the official version of how these two visits are to play out. The reality is often quite different. I’ve written about my first two inspections in my posts What To Expect When You’re Inspected Part I and Part II.

 

Coming Soon!

Mason à la Maison is a new website that will share our homeschooling journey using the Charlotte Mason method in France using bilingual English/French resources. The site is currently under construction and will be coming soon!