What is school for? A look at the boys’ education while travelling and beyond…

Concentrating at school
CNEd / the french distance learning syllabus

While we were travelling, we decided to educate the boys using the French distance learning syllabus called the CNED. After two months of “home/travel schooling”, we chose to move to Copenhagen and decided to send the boys to a French international school.

I had found working with our eldest enjoyable and Gavin was making progress with both boys in mathematics. Our youngest, however, had me wrapped around his little finger. I had to laugh. He spent a week at his old school in France prior to our move to Copenhagen and the teacher showed me his beautiful hand writing. It held no resemblance to what he was producing for me. It had been such an effort for him (and for me from an encouragement perspective) to produce even one line of text! Beautiful handwriting for maîtresse, but a headache for me…

Maîtresse also revealed to me that our eldest had remarked: “mom doesn’t know anything!” At the time, we had been working on a classic French text from La Fontaine. It is a beautiful piece of writing, but since it dates from around 1680, I had had to look up at least half the words. I cannot deny it, I found the French CNED grammar and literature – even at age 9 level – difficult. I was secretly happy to relinquish the task to someone more qualified although I did enjoy pouring over the dictionary with G and deciphering texts together.

All in all, I think it might have made better sense for us to use an English curriculum or no curriculum at all. Fortunately, the boy’s French school had advised us to do only French and Maths so we were able to supplement their learning and all-round fun – Geography, Science, Biology, Physical Education, Art – with all the wonderful travel experiences.


The boys then attended the French school in Copenhagen. After small French schools in the Gers countryside, the size of the school and the number of children was a shock to the system. The boys found it overwhelming and noisy.

Fortunately, R’s teacher for the year was from the south west of France and he has the same accent as R does, so they could appreciate and understand each other. The school also offered a few activities that would be unheard of elsewhere. R did a semester of ice-skating on an outdoor ice rink during the winter. I went along to assist with the taking-on and -off of skates. With the early morning chill in the air, excited children, pink cheeks, cosy gloves and mittens, it was an unforgettable moment.

I also attended a couple of sports days where we cycled with an entire class of children (at least 30 eight and nine year olds) to a sports field a good 40 minutes from the school. Copenhagen has remarkable cycle lanes, but to me it was a monumental achievement none the less. I can’t imagine that being possible anywhere else in the world.

In the end, both boys left with a few good friends that they will keep in contact with. They were, however, very happy to move back to their Gers classrooms!


The boys are now back at the local French schools in the Gers. Both seem to be enjoying being with their old friends again. I find the local schools lovely – they’re small for a start with just over 20 children per class.

The complication arises that there are so few children in the countryside, that two to three grades of children are all grouped together. In the Montessori philosophy, this is regarded as beneficial as children are exposed to the level of work ahead of their actual grade and can “review” work from the previous year if necessary. It also allows children to work together and independently as the teacher cannot be with all two / three grades at one time. I think the local teachers manage the situation well although it can’t be easy.

Another remarkable advantage of small schools and the French system is that each school has a dedicated chef who provides a three-course lunch for the children. The menus seem well balanced and even the deserts are well thought through – fruit / fruit-compote / plain yoghurt. This means that the children are exposed to many flavours and end up being adventurous foodies which is loads of fun.

Both boys have started playing rugby with the local Massylvain club and they so enjoy being a part of a team and enjoy the physicality of training and tournaments each week and weekend.


When we visited Bali, we had the opportunity to visit Green School which is a school based on the ideology of sustainability. The buildings themselves are sustainable and are built from bamboo. The result is beautiful and inspiring indoor-outdoor classrooms. We were so impressed with the school, that we have applied for the 2019 September intake. They are completely full at the moment so we will have to see what is possible. Even if they are not able to attend, it would be awesome to send them on some of the holiday camps on offer. Take a look at the kids camps here: https://greencampbali.com/kids-camps/


In the meantime, I’m reading as much as I can about education. What do children need to learn? My favourite find so far is Seth Godin’s book where he discusses the importance of independent study, experiential adventures, community service, privacy and solitude and apprenticeships. You can download it here: https://sethgodin.typepad.com/files/stop-stealing-dreams6print.pdf

I’ll write up what I learn along the way and if you have any insights about education that you could share, I’d love to hear from you. Does the system your children are in suit them? Do you think it prepares them well for the future? What’s missing for you and how are you going about filling in the gaps?

Winter in the Gers

Bernis in the snow.

Every year, we find that it is relatively easy to rent Bernis for the summer. Come Christmas and New Year and the end of the festivities, we notice the bookings for the summer come in. Perhaps it’s at this chilly time of year when people need to look ahead to the summer months and visualise their summer holiday!

We have noticed, however, that Bernis seems to be less attractive to winter holiday makers which is a shame. So, I’ve decided to put this to rights and highlight a couple of lovely wintery Bernis must-dos.

What to do…

Winter in the Gers is a time to light the fires in the fireplaces – there are three in the house. There is one in the kitchen which makes the atmosphere very cosy. There is another in the lounge for those snuggling on sofas catching up on some holiday reading / watching a favourite movie / playing a board game. And, there is a third in the dining room to accompany those long, delicious Gersoise meals. The rest of the house has a warm ambient temperature due to the warmth generated by the pellet burner system.

If you’ve had enough of relaxing by the fire and want to explore the local area during your visit to Bernis, there’s nothing better than Gersoise dining especially during the winter months. Have a look at our list of favourite local restaurants and indulge knowing that you can very easily take a brisk walk after lunch to burn off those extra calories!

Out and about local to Bernis…

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Aide Nepal market at Bernis

Prayer Flags

In December 2016, we held our first event at Bernis; a Christmas market for the charity “Aide Nepal Magnoac”. We set-up the stall holders in the courtyard outdoors and it was a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky winter’s day.

So, what exactly was on sale?

There was a focus on handmade, quality gifts including silver and gemstone jewellery, fun wooden signs, handcrafted wooden kitchenware, beautiful handmade soaps, bath and body products and Christmas decorations, cards, gift-wrap and tags.

Being in the Gers countryside, we had to have the famous local produce of course. The everyday fare is a treat so you can just imagine the Christmas fare – local artisans came with their foie gras, tisanes, flour, pasta, breads, beer, charcuterie and honey.

There were also Christmassy songs, shiatsu massages in an upstairs bedroom, a second-hand clothing sale and mulled wine and mince pies.

All in all, it was a super day and we valued sharing Bernis with others – it really comes alive when there are many people and festive occasions to celebrate!

And, what is Aide Nepal doing now?

On the 18th October 2018, Roy Francis, one of the founders of “Aide Nepal Magnoac” and a former soldier and lifelong adventurer, sets off from Kathmandhu to climb Mount Parchemuche in the Everest region of Nepal. Roy hopes to raise £20,000 to rebuild and equip the school at Budhasing which was destroyed during the 2015 earthquakes. You can find out more and donate by looking on their website: https://aidenepalmagnoac.org/

I drove on the wrong side of the road in front of the gendarmes…

Once in France, we bought a second-hand American Chrysler. It was large and all the seats folded down into the base of the car so it was perfect for transporting items from the builder’s merchants and dropping off sacks of rubble at the local dump. It was soon dubbed “the beast” and G bought a little white Peugeot to zoot to and from the airport. “Beauty” and “the beast” were soon a part of our everyday comings and goings.

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Do you have any tips on decorating a manor house?

I know many people would love to decorate a manor house, but I have found it complicated… The first problem is that I don’t like to spend money and have you ever had a quote from an upholsterer or curtain maker or any dealer in fabrics, that didn’t cost the earth? Thus, although we have done a lot of painting, most of the upholstery and curtains have not been done… Perhaps when I win the lottery!

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Starting school can be tough – for children and parents too…

Our eldest son was three and a half when we first arrived in France so we signed him up to attend the local “maternelle” or kindergarten school. He was such an articulate three-and-a-half-year-old that I felt terrible putting him into a context where he was unable to express himself. He had been attending a Montessori school in London and I found it difficult to adapt. Fortunately, many of the class-time activities were done in a similar way and he became fluent within a year.

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Are men and women really equal?

Before moving to the French countryside, I had a worldview in which men and women were pretty much physically equal. To me, a woman could do anything a man can do if she really wanted to. (Yes, I went to an all-girls school and grew up in a family of women. I know nothing about boys and men.) I did perhaps know on some level that men are physically stronger, but it took moving to the French countryside to see this for real.

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