“Start by closing your eyes…the intensity, power of laughter, the pleasure and the joy are incomparable and unforgettable. Open your eyes, cut the sound: the joy on their faces, the enthusiasm, friendships, exploration, total and absolute engagement: pure enjoyment,” advises Fréderic Tavernier, the Director of the Maternelle Preschool at Rochambeau The French International School.
For a teacher, this small experiment is a way of reminding us that preschool and kindergarten are all about fun. “For the child, play is a source and a vehicle for learning,” he insists. This principle is at the heart of France’s official Maternelle program and at the core of the curriculum taught at Rochambeau The French International School Maternelle for children ages 2 through kindergarten.
While Rochambeau offers a comprehensive education all the way to 12th grade, “Maternelle is an essential step in the journey of students to ensure their academic success,” emphasizes Frédéric Tavernier. It is a school where children will learn together and live together. Here they develop their oral language and begin to discover writing, numbers, art, sciences… in both French and English. They learn through play, reflection, problem-solving, practice, recall, and memorization.
This attention for the well-being of the child, with a curriculum adapted to their rhythm, ensuring a balance between academics and recreation, meets the recommendations of American specialists. In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics sounded the alarm in a report expressing concern about the decline in the amount of time devoted to play in the lives of toddlers. “From 1981 to 1997, children’s playtime decreased by 25%. Children three to 11 years of age have lost 12 hours per week of free time. Because of increased academic pressure, 30% of US kindergarten children no longer have recess.”
The Maternelle teachers have one central goal: to ensure that the children are excited to go to school to learn, gain confidence, and develop their personality.
“Mission accomplished,” say parents like Erika Aparakakankanange. “When my children are at Rochambeau, they have so much fun that they don’t always realize that they are learning things, and for children like mine, who are not native French speakers, it makes the immersion process much easier…I can honestly say that my boys like to go to school every day and that is one of the many things we love about Rochambeau.”
“What I like,” says another parent, Sabine Durier, “is that the school combines classroom work, where all activities are intentional, with moments purely reserved for free time, where they can be children before they are students.”
Quoting Montaigne, the French philosopher, Maternelle teacher Bénédicte Le Nouën Maurice notes that “a child is not a vase that you fill, but a fire that you light”, which you let grow. “It’s important to give children free time to play, to make choices. This free time is not a waste of time, quite the contrary! During these moments of freedom, the child thinks about what he could play; he can make choices, invent, create, reach out to others. Many skills are built during this time. The child must not always be waiting for instructions, he must be able to learn to think for himself, to make his own choices, to invent, to create… and for this he needs free time.”
Preparing Global Citizens
Beginning at the preschool level and continuing through 12th grade, all students at Rochambeau, the French International School receive regular, guided instruction in both English and French, and can start a third language as early as elementary school (Arabic, Spanish).
Students represent more than 80 nationalities and communicate in over 25 different languages. As the only accredited French school in the Washington, DC, area, Rochambeau proudly enrolls children without any knowledge of French until the 4th grade. Our adapted immersion program gives students the opportunity to be part of and benefit from this extraordinary community.
Graduates of Rochambeau go on to study at top universities in the US, Canada, UK, France, and all around the world. Students receive their US high school diploma at the end of 11th grade and the French Baccalaureate at the end of 12th grade. Starting in 2021, Rochambeau will also offer the IB dual language diploma.