I’ve always been fascinated by France’s unique and vibrant culture. I spent years studying the French language and French history in college. As a junior, I studied abroad for a summer in Saint Malo on the north coast of France. Since then, I’ve returned to France four times and still soak up French culture whenever I can. Since I’m a principal and I’m certified to teach French, I started to wonder about what the French school system is like compared to the school system in the United States. Here’s what I found.

Length of a School Day

The typical school day in France runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, no matter the age of the child. The U.S. school day varies by age. Older children generally start earlier in the morning at 7:30 a.m. while some elementary school children start around 9 a.m.

Age of Starting Public School

Like the U.S., France has preschools or nursery schools to provide care for children and to prepare them for primary school. However, the major difference is France provides free public schooling for children as young as two years old. Public schools in the U.S. don’t provide free schooling until a child is five.

Price of Preschool

In both countries, preschools and nursery schools aren’t a requirement, but it’s important because it prepares them for future academic success. French preschool is free. U.S. preschool is not and parents have to foot the bill themselves. What’s even crazier is that in almost half the country, preschool is more expensive than a college education.

Length of Lunch Break

French children and teachers get a lengthy two-hour lunch break. It’s standard in the French culture to enjoy lunch since that’s their largest meal of the day, and their method is to leisurely eat and enjoy the meal. In the U.S., both students and teachers get roughly half an hour to eat. For children, that half hour includes waiting in the long lunch line to be served, finding a seat, then having a brief 10 or 15 minutes to eat before the break is over. For teachers, most don’t get a proper lunch break because they either have to watch their children or spend their breaks making copies, grading or preparing for the next class.

Food Served at School

In France, children aren’t allowed to bring food from home. Instead, they are fed whatever the school cafeteria serves that day — meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and grains — that are all delightfully eaten. You’d be surprised that none of the kids turned up their noses to fish since most do in the U.S. This practice is to encourage kids to eat a balanced meal and eat whatever is in front of them so nothing goes to waste. In our country, it’s pretty standard for kids to eat pizza, burgers, and fries from the cafeteria or gobble down a peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwich brought from home. It’s also common for U.S. children to throw away any fruits and vegetables that are served to them.  

Are you surprised with how different the school systems are? Let me know what you think in the comments section!