Wednesday, September 13, 2006

School Supply Madness, suite et fin

My daughter has a friend who had a terrible first day of school. Having carefully purchased the dozens of items on her liste de fournitures scolaires, she suddenly realized she had bought cahiers à petits carreaux (notice the patch of small squares at the top of the notebook above) rather than the required wide-lined notebooks. A catastrophe.

My previous post on school supply madness in France brought in a number of comments, but I'm not finished with this issue yet. Yes, I did survive the six trips to buy notebooks and pens, although I'm not so sure about our pocketbook. I read that the average cost of going back to school for a middle school student, including PE clothes but not books, is around 200 euros, or a little over 250 dollars. And what is this money spent on?


A lot of it goes to notebooks and binders -- cahiers et classeurs. Angela told me of a new system in her son's high school in Southern France which sounds wonderful:

"...last year the school encouraged the students to buy a bloc notes pad. The lessons were done on the pad and the sheets then transferred into the relevant classeurs at home. It really works and no excruciatingly heavy bags."

Unfortunately, that system hasn't been adopted here yet. Every class -- and the students have up to 12 -- requires its own notebook or binder. That may sound simple enough, but the choice of model is overwhelming. Don't forget, you can't just go pick up ten notebooks. Each teacher gives his or her own requirements, so you have to make sure to:

- choose the correct size -- 24 x 32 cm, 21 x 29.7 cm, 17 X 22cm...

-choose the right type of lines, the cahier à petits carreaux apparently being there just to fool people like my daughter's friend as teachers usually don't ask for them...

-select the appropriate number of pages -- 96, 140, 198. This has been a sticking point a few times as stores do run out of certain models.

-sometimes, choose the type of binding, but this is fortunately rare

So you can see that the margin for error is large, as is the budget. You also have to buy protège-cahiers, or notebook covers, which are notoriously out of stock in our area. One year my older daughter started talking about driving to Albi (over an hour away) where she had "heard they had transparent 24 X 32 notebook covers." I did not entertain the idea.

Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without a description of the epitome of the French school supply system: le cahier de brouillon, or the scratch paper notebook. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it really does exist. It guarantees there will be no sloppy work on feuilles volantes -- literally "flying sheets of paper." We couldn't have that, could we? So all "scratch paper" work is done in a little notebook, that can thankfully be used for all classes.

I must admit I have a soft spot in my heart for the scratch paper notebook. And it's one of the cheapest things on the list.

8 comments:

Alison said...

What cracks me up is that the students seem to need precise instructions for their material. When I told my middle schoolers that they'd need a cahier, I was bombarded with questions: What size? How many pages? Petits carreaux?

Then later on, whenever I told them to copy what was on the board, they would ask "What color pen do I use, Madame?" Finally, I told them, "Look, I went to school in a different kind of system. Use whatever colors work for YOU."

[eyeroll]

bcinfrance said...

I must admit that the kids don't seem to complain about it much.

The positive side of all of this -- which I will mention if I get another Monique-like comment -- is that the students do learn to take nice notes and keep their coursework very organized.

Steve said...

Wow. I am exhausted now.

Doc said...

this is just freakin my freak--here i am all happy that my kids will eventually go to school, and now i'm worried about having a nervous breakdown...ugh

bcinfrance said...

Don"t worry, Doc, you will get broken into it. The lists for maternelle are not so bad.

One of my most glorious days as a mother was somewhere around 6me when the girls were actually able to take on most of the picking and choosing themselves.

The worst time was when they were both in upper primary school, with pretty complex lists and I had to still supervise the shopping for both of them! Yuk!

Pauline said...

That did make me laugh. The first time I had to buy supplies was when Leon was in CP. So I go along with the list to my local Auchan and had to ask the other mums there for help. I didn't even understand the list

Cahier de brouillon etc ... I didn't have a clue.

Now that he is in CE2 I can make my way round the list. The only thing that is a real pain is that we don't get the list until the first day of school. So you imagine what fun it is trying to find everything.

Run Around Paris said...

Wow, I had no idea that school supplies in France were so complicated.

Multifariousmeanderings said...

They now do notebooks with rigid plastic covers. Hurray! I dread the school shop - and so does my bank manager. It's a good exercice in negotiation techniques too, or you end up paying 50% more for the pleasure of using top brand material. What gets my goat is that teachers ask for things the children barely use, if it is used at all.