Innovative Bilingual Education Paris – Living School

June 26, 2024 | Blog, Education

Living School is a unique bilingual school located in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, beside the city’s beautiful Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

The school was established in 2007, initially as a preschool class for children aged 3 to 6 years old. With each year, they have grown alongside their students, and today welcome over a hundred children, from preschool up to collège or middle school.

We spoke with Living School founder Caroline Sost to learn more about the school’s refreshing, innovative approach to education and their emphasis on eco-citizenship, community and giving their students real life skills and confidence in their own potential.


A Unique Approach to Education in Paris

 

Can you tell us about the 4 principles at the heart of Living School? 

 

Our approach to learning rests on these four pillars:

  • The first is personal growth. Children learn to trust themselves, to have harmonious relationships with others and to assert themselves rather than simply react.

 

  • Another pillar is eco-citizenship. From a very young age, children learn to contribute to a better world. They undertake projects for the planet while learning to read, write and count.

 

  • The third pillar is bilingualism. Children at Living School learn in both English and French. There is a native English speaking teacher present for half of the day, which includes class time as well as outdoor activities or lunch.

 

  • The fourth key principle is adult training. We know that to help a child flourish, it is important to support the adults around them. Therefore, we are also a centre for parental support, offering workshops every year on themes such as self-confidence, authority, sibling relationships, emotional and sexual education and gender equality. We are also a training centre for education professionals, providing them with guidance to help their students flourish and to introduce more eco-citizenship into their practice.

 

What mix of nationalities do you have at Living School and how are the languages balanced? 

At Living School, between 18% and 22% of our children are from bilingual English and French speaking families. Additionally, 20% and 25% of children are from bilingual families that speak another language at home, such as German, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish or Chinese.

This creates a culturally diverse community at Living School. Parents and students frequently introduce their culture into the classroom through lessons, food, and stories. This cultural diversity enriches the exchanges that occur between families and children.

How do you define “savoir-être”? 

At Living School, we focus on life skills. By life skills, we mean the entirety of our qualities and flaws. It encompasses all our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. It includes both what we are aware of and what we are not conscious of.

In essence, savoir-être is our way of being and our personality. We believe that this can evolve, evoking further fulfilment and happiness. No child is, therefore, inherently shy or aggressive, but instead all children can progress in a way that fulfils them and contributes to those around them. 

 

 

The way we work on life skills at Living School is very professional. Our entire educational team is trained every year for between 5 and 20 days, undergoing deep personal development themselves to bring their highest quality of being to the children and young people.

How does Living School approach ecological education with different age groups?

As one of Living School’s pillars, eco-citizenship is embedded in our everyday teaching in all of our classrooms. From preschool onwards, children take part in projects, activities, and teachings that inspire and enable them to contribute to a better world. From World Cleanup Day to larger student-led projects, children are motivated to take care of their earth in a variety of ways.

Notably, in June, each class of children, whether they are in preschool, primary or secondary, comes together in what we call eco-citizen councils. After learning about sustainable development goals, the children brainstorm projects that are close to their heart, such as gender equality, advancing literacy worldwide, dealing with waste, or preserving the ice caps.

 

Objectives for children at The Living School

 

All children wishing to propose a project to the eco-citizen council prepare a presentation alongside a poster to represent their project idea. During the council, all children vote on which projects they wish to undertake. The projects with the majority of votes become the foundational eco-citizenship project themes for the following year.

 

A bilingual classroom

 

After the vote, the teachers begin to prepare for the next year based on the themes defined by the children. This student-led initiative inspires the children to partake with enthusiasm, as they feel a sense of agency over the whole process. Teachers work to integrate their eco-citizenship projects into their teaching, so children are learning to read, write, and count through meaningful projects that make a difference.

For example in middle school our class recently worked on Fast Fashion. They watched the documentary ‘The True Cost’ in English and became much more aware of the fashion industry’s issues, including exploitation and its social and environmental impact in many countries. They gave presentations in English about the Fast Fashion industry and, to take action, attended an up-cycling workshop at a recycling centre. They will sell clothes to fund an NGO fighting against Fast Fashion.

How do you ensure that each child has the opportunity to develop their unique talents? 

At Living School, we highlight the potential of our students, believing that all students have immense potential, a unique personality and a place in the class. 

We start each school year with a metaphor, using a large puzzle with as many pieces as there are students. Each student decorates their piece of the puzzle, and we assemble it together. Once we are all in front of the completed puzzle, we show the children that if even one piece is missing, the puzzle is incomplete. This teaches them that everyone has a place in the class and a unique talent to contribute.

 

 

This metaphor is powerful as it helps us remind a child who is struggling or isolating themself that it is important for them to be with us and that we should never leave anyone behind.

At Living School, we have many ways to celebrate unique talents. Every week, the children celebrate their achievements in their success journals. These achievements can be related to anything happening in a child’s life whether it be academic, personal or athletic. For example, children may celebrate sounding out their first word, dancing in a recital, learning to ride a bike or helping their sibling with something meaningful. I think of a student who was particularly happy to be able to put her head underwater at the pool, something neither her mother nor her grandmother had done, making her the first generation to do so. This success journal ritual takes place every week in all classes, from preschool to secondary school.

 

A living school student

 

Another way to celebrate children’s unique talents is through an activity called Knowledge Market. 

Every year, children set up stalls to showcase their specific skills or talents. Both children and adults sign up to visit these stalls and learn new things. I can describe a particular moment from a Knowledge Market I attended a few years ago. When I arrived, there was a corner to learn to count to 10 in Korean, so I signed up and learned. There was a spot to learn the cartwheel of Capoeira, which I also learned. There was also a child who taught us how to position our hands on a violin. It was the first time I had held a violin, and it was a very powerful moment. There was also a cooking corner to learn how to make maki rolls.

These moments are wonderful because we learn from our students, and they realise they can teach their peers and adults alike.

 

Creative Living School lessons

 

How involved are the parents in school life?

Parents at Living School happily participate in the parent community because it is a true community that fosters mutual support and cooperation, mirroring the mutual support and cooperation in our classes.

In the early years, when our founding students were leaving Living School at the end of their primary school years, some parents told me that not only had we delivered what we had promised in terms of their childrens’ development, but Living School had provided them with an additional gift — they had found amazing friends here through the parent community. It is true that there is a very strong community with a lot of solidarity, good humour and smiles, which is part of what makes our school special.

At Living School, we also ask parents to invest in educating themselves on how they can best support their children’s life skills development. Therefore, one of the prerequisites for enrolling a child at Living School is to attend at least two parental support workshops per year. These two workshops are included in our tuition fees. It is essential for us that parents attend these workshops because at school we provide their children with tools to flourish, improve self-confidence, and communicate better with others. Therefore, it is important that parents also have these tools to progress on these topics themselves, in addition to accompanying their children. 

Our parents benefit from our parent school and are often very grateful for it. They themselves say that Living School is not just a school for children, it’s also a school for parents, and it allows them to flourish as well.

What aspect of Living School are you most proud of?

Recently, we are very happy, along with Anne-Sophie de Oliveira, to have opened our Living School collège in 2020, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic.

 

Living School Classrooms

 

This is Anne-Sophie’s project, who was my deputy for many years. She created this middle school because she felt it was very important to provide a different mode of education at this level. Especially in France, it is probably the area in education where there is the greatest need to rethink well-being for teenagers.

Therefore, she established this secondary level at Living School, bringing a pedagogy that allows young people to trust themselves, place less importance on the opinions of others and continue to be active in creating a better world.

 

Outside learning France

 

What is wonderful with secondary school students, given their autonomy, is that we can do many things. Regularly, our students participate in events, such as the Junior Earth University, where they led two sessions for 350 children and parents in UNESCO last year, or at the “Change Now” event, where they organised a treasure hunt for children aged 8 to 12. What I really like about our secondary school students is that, due to their autonomy, we can give them more responsibility.

Notably, this week, our Year 9 and Year 10 students are all currently completing a work experience or internship. We know that work experience is mandatory in Year 10, but at our school, they can start earlier. For example, we received a photo of one of our students vaccinating a horse as part of his work experience. They can try out different professions, and we support them in their future career choices.

At our middle school, we ensure that adolescence rhymes with purpose.

 

Living School Owners

 


Find out more about Living School and the enrolment process on their website.

Read more inspiring interviews and articles on the MumAbroad blog

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