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What's PE Like in a French School?

Blog Type:  Lower School Athletics
Date Posted:  Monday, December 17, 2018

One of the characteristics of a school with a French program in preschool and K (called “maternelle” in French) are the daily physical education activities. The word “Education” is important, because the activities organized for the student are part of a program with specific objectives articulated in a scope and sequence.  

In preschool, children go to the mini-gym four times a week to develop their gross motor skills, learn collaborative games and express themselves through their bodies. This approach of PE is not so much in terms of fitness as it would be in the upper grade levels, but an opportunity to explore, develop and start mastering physical skills, such as running, climbing, balancing, throwing, aiming, etc.  

The gross motor classes include the use of materials and the development of skills with objects such as balls, hula-hoops, bean bags or stilts; dance and movement that intersects with music and artistic education; and a bi-weekly obstacle course that allow children to develop gross motor skills in a more organic and integrated way. Risk-taking and challenging oneself are also two important components of the program.

In grades 1 to 6, physical education has strong connections with the social and cultural development of the student as an individual. This teaching is inclusive by involving students with various ability levels, including students with physical limitations or handicaps, and making no gender differences.  

Its aims include bringing pleasure in practicing sports, and understanding the value of practice.

The French curriculum guidelines emphasize five main goals:

  1. Developing one’s gross motor skills and using the body as a means of expression
  2. Acquiring some methods and tools through physical and sports practice
  3. Sharing rules, taking on roles and responsibilities
  4. Learning to maintain good health through a regular sports practice
  5. Acquiring a physical, sports and artistic culture


During rainy days (or smokey days, like we had in November), our students practice activities designed for the indoor space. Most of them are focused on independent learning, cooperative movements, and skills :

  • dance: aerobic dance, ballet, jazz, social or modern
  • jump rope: a variety of techniques and challenges
  • cooperative activities: passing bean bags, balls and hula hoops with partners on different patterns, parachute activity
  • circus skills: acrosport, juggling, gymnastics and tumbling
  • yoga activities for stretching or relaxation
  • indoor sports and games: small side soccer, hockey, dodgeball
  • obstacle course in the mini gym

All PE classes are conducted in French with teacher Patrice Zauret (grades 2 to 8) several times a week. Since the beginning of the school year the students practiced speed running and have also worked on fitness and strength with jump ropes and hula-hoops and doing push-ups and jumping jacks. They also practiced traditional sports such as French handball, soccer, and American football.