C’est la rentrée! It’s back-to-school time in France! The first day back for all public schools nationwide is Tuesday, September 1, and along with that comes school supplies shopping. Let’s take a look at what school supplies French kids need before they head back to class in a week or so. P.S. If you’re looking for souvenirs from France, French school supplies are the perfect choice!
French school supplies
I loved back-to-school shopping when I was a kid. Between the new clothes and shoes and all the pens and notebooks, I was in my glory. I liked school and thought it was super exciting to get everything I needed for class. As an adult, I have a bit of an obsession with notebooks and cool pens, so it’s no wonder I’m writing about back-to-school supplies. I went out to buy a few things despite the fact that we don’t have kids because, well, it’s fun and you can never have too many notebooks and pens.
In France, every student gets a list of what his or her school requires for the upcoming year, similar to what I remember receiving from my teacher as a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey. What stands out to me about this French list is how long and detailed it is, even the basic list. In many cases, you’ll see exact sizes and colors noted for all of the items on the list.
You can buy school supplies in France both in person or online at grocery stores, office supply stores like Bureau Vallée or Office Depot, or independent stationery stores. There’s also Cultura which has music/DVDs, books, arts and crafts, and more.
BIC is a popular brand and about 50% of BIC products sold in France are made at one of the seven BIC factories in France.
Here’s a look at the basic supplies that all kids need for 2020:
On top of the basic list, individual schools have their own lists that build upon the basics pictured above. As kids get older, the lists get more complicated. Think specific fountain pens, dictionaries, and paperclips. The lists can get long and can even become something that families dread and joke about.
It can be stressful for parents to have to shop for specific brands of highlighters or glue sticks or find notebooks with the exact dimensions required, so much so that there are websites that do the school shopping for you and ship everything to your home. You send the site your specific list and they take care of it for you. No stress!
School supplies also get expensive. The good thing is that for families who earn under a certain amount of money, there’s government financial assistance that goes toward back-to-school shopping to ensure that every student can have what’s necessary to start the school year off on the right foot.
The allocation de rentrée scolaire can range up to 500 € per child depending on the age of the children in the household. This year, 30,884 € is the max income a family with two children can earn to qualify for the subsidy. In 2020, the allotment was 100 € more than usual due to the current global situation.
Here are the French school supplies that I bought and will use in my office (that also make great souvenirs from France):
Pencil case: This roomy BIC pencil case is made in France and features a little red, white, and blue to show off your patriotic side. It zips closed.
Fountain pen: I always got a chuckle out of French kids using their fountain pens. I don’t think I had ever used one even as an adult. They seem fancy in my head and more complicated than they need to be. French kids do have ballpoint pens, as noted on the basic supplies list above, but from early middle school on, many French teachers require schoolwork to be done with fountain pens like the BIC one here. They require replaceable ink cartridges that you can buy separately.
Eraser pens: These PaperMate magic eraser pens are a French school supply staple. They caught my eye the first day of class when I was teaching because we don’t really have them in the USA, or if we do they aren’t mainstream for kids everywhere. Contrary to what I thought, they aren’t pens that you use to write with that just have erasable ink. They are only used to make corrections when you use your fountain pen.
Since there’s no eraser on a fountain pen, these special pens come in handy when you make a mistake in ink and need to erase. You use the white end to remove the error and then write over it with the ink on the blue end. Your regular fountain pen ink won’t write over the part that you erased with the white end, so you need this special blue ink end to make the correction.
Pencils: These pencils came in a pack of four and were pre-sharpened. This is what they look like right out of the package.
Pastel highlighters: I like the soft pastels instead of the bright fluorescent colors. Even if you’re no longer a student highlighting lines in textbooks, they are great for highlighting appointment times in your planner or making a more colorful to-do list.
Folders: These colorful folders are super common even with adults. Any time you have a meeting at the bank or anywhere, you’ll bring all your documents in a folder like this with an elastic strap to keep everything inside.
France vs. USA school supplies
Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed about back-to-school supplies in France that are different than how kids do things in the USA. Although I don’t have kids, I got a first-hand look at schools in France when I taught in French primary schools:
-When I was in grade school, we wrote with pencils. In France, fountain pens are much more common, even for math, especially at the middle school level and above. I find that kids write with ink way more often in France than in the USA.
-The eraser pens pictured earlier in the post are a must so that you can correct errors you’ve made in ink. Every student has several in their pencil case. I’ve never seen them in the USA.
–Notebooks have grid lines that form squares in France — and they aren’t just for math. Lined notebooks/paper that students commonly use in the USA are less common in France.
–Students write in cursive by default and it’s quite elaborate with lots of loops. It’s taught in primary school and you won’t find students submitting assignments with printed/block letters. They write in loopy cursive as shown above.
When it comes to souvenirs from France, you have so many choices. If you’re into stationery and notebooks like I am, school supplies make perfect French souvenirs. Small, easy to pack, and useful for adults and kids, colorful folders, pens, and pencil cases are fun ways to remember your trip to France. What souvenirs from France are your favorite?
Hope you enjoyed this look at French school supplies!
Disclosure: I paid for everything seen here with my own funds. This post does contain affiliate links.
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