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December 11, 2001
St.-Verand: school days (Russell)

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The world trippers answering questions

Back in the United States, when we were first planning our trip, we envisioned parking ourselves somewhere in France for several months.  We would rent a house, live and buy groceries like the native French do, and enroll Cameron and Joss in the local public school.  While we have been able to find a house and live like the French, we did not end up enrolling the boys in a French school.  We were strongly advised (by Cameron's French teacher) that a couple of months would not be enough.  The boys would just be getting used to the French system of school discipline when it would be time to leave.  They would not have a positive learning experience.

Instead, we have decided to continue homeschooling the boys ourselves, taking advantage of our stable home here.  We have established a regular daily regime: one hour of workbook/lecture, one hour of reading, one hour of PC educational programs, and one hour of outside play.  We start every morning at 10:00, and the boys are able to finish by the early afternoon.  Because Cameron and Joss are already learning so much simply by traveling around the world, our lessons emphasize mathematics, reading, writing, and English and French language skills.  (Joss has just begun his fourth "Harry Potter" book and Cameron is reading the "Petit Nicholas" series.)

In return, the boys earn "fun time" points that they can spend playing PC and video games or watching children's DVDs.  They also make up their own projects: Cameron has completed several counted cross-stitch pictures, and Joss has built his own "store," complete with merchandise and paper money.  They are continuing to become more independent, and we are able to leave them at home for one to two hours at a time while we run errands in town.

All of these practices helped prepare us for when our French teacher friend Pascal invited Cameron and Joss to spend a day at his school in St.-Verand.  On December 11th, we set out early for the one-hour drive north (St.-Verand is a tiny village near St.-Marcellin, past Pascal's home in St.-Paul-les-Romans).  The school is located in the same building as the Mairie (mayor's office), and when we arrived at 10:00 AM we were greeted by Pascal and his classroom of CM2 (fifth-grade) and 6ème (sixth-grade) children.

Both Cameron and Joss were extremely nervous, so Russell and Gail spent the morning in the classroom with them.  The world trippers sat on chairs at the front of the room, and the children were allowed to ask a variety of questions about the trip, life in the United States, and American schools.  Pascal very cleverly used the overall session as an educational project: the children traced our route on their world maps, discussed and prepared their questions ahead of time, and wrote down our answers for a later report (they also analyzed Russell's French grammatical errors).

The French children started out even more nervous than Cameron and Joss, but they soon all had their hands up to ask questions.  They wondered what we had seen so far, what our favorite countries were, whether we had had any problems, and why we were traveling around the world in the first place.  They were very curious about life in America -- Gail elicited a roomful of "oohs" and gasps when she showed a picture of our colorful green house in Cupertino (most French houses are constructed out of unpainted gray stone).  One boy wanted to see what American money looked like.

After a few hours, Russell and Gail were able to leave the boys by themselves.  Pascal took us on a tour of the rest of the school, where the three- and four-year olds in the école maternelle greeted us with American "hellos" and "bye byes."

While Cameron and Joss had lunch with their classmates in the school cafeteria, Russell and Gail took a short drive an hour further on into Grenoble (this was our first time away from the boys since their previous school visit back in New Zealand).  We had lunch at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Le tonneau de Diogenes at la Place Nôtre-Dame, where every evening the French share poetry and discuss philosophy in the back room.  We didn't get to see much more of Grenoble (we did find a store named "JOSS"), but we were able to spend the afternoon taking the scenic and meandering country roads back to St.-Verand.

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Grenoble: Gail at la Place Nôtre-Dame

When we returned at 4:00 PM, Joss had been moved over to the CE2 (third grade) classroom with children of his own age.  He had spent the afternoon transcribing poésie and doing gymnastics.  Cameron had had a harder time, working with his classmates on multi-digit multiplication speed drills.  The classroom had a goûter of cake and juice in our honor, and the mayor herself came over to visit.

Even after school let out at 4:30, Cameron and Joss continued to play with the other children.  Joss started hopping around in the courtyard, and soon had a line of other children hopping around as well.  They all ended up playing le loup touche touche ("tag") together.  (Joss also had the other children climbing up the basketball pole, until a girl came over and let us know that that really wasn't allowed.)

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and educational day.  Pascal has invited Cameron and Joss back to the school for another day in January -- but this time without mom and dad in the way.  The grownups may take advantage of their free time to take in some more of Grenoble.

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Cameron and Joss in their classrooms


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