"Let early education," advised Plato, "be a sort of amusement." In one of the most exciting—and certainly the most pleasant—pedagogic innovations in postwar Europe, French educators have combined fun and learning by setting up government-sponsored snow classes for urban schoolchildren. Begun hesitantly in 1953, the program now permits 30,000 pupils, mostly from industrial sections, to spend four weeks in the Alps and Pyrenees. After a morning of study, the youngsters—many for the first time—have a chance to marvel at the snow, breathe crisp air and be taught the joys (and trials) of skiing.
In chalet at Super Grand Bornand in the Alps, schoolgirls from Saint-Denis, a Paris tenement district, pore over lessons before ski class (left).
The cost of the program is kept down to $61 per child for lodging, food and laundry, and of this a family is expected to pay only $18. If that is too much, the government helps out. Skis are furnished by the government's Youth and Sports organization, headed by Annapurna's conqueror. Maurice Herzog. Finally, resorts such as Courchevel have built special chalets to accommodate the youngsters, whose wide-eyed reactions (below) to the wonders of country living should be enough to melt the most reactionary educator.
During stay in the mountains, city girls from Saint-Denis public school are intrigued by first look at that exotic quadruped, the cow.
Before lights out, fifth-grader Jo√´lle d'Aimé writes a letter home.
Early ski casualty, Christiane Valente, studies while recuperating.
Few educational programs have shown such salutary—and provable—results. After four weeks in the mountains, the French youngsters gain in weight and height, their faces take on a healthy bronze and they learn to cope with unfamiliar problems, such as the scary ski tow at left. There is also carryover value: back in the city they develop fewer throat ailments and colds. And, returning to the schoolroom, they attack their studies with renewed zeal. "One month in the mountains," says Program Nurse Yvonne Huppé, who stayed with the girls throughout their trip into the snow country, "c'est énorme." American educators, such as Dr. Benjamin Willis, superintendent of Chicago schools, echo her appraisal: "Any experience that can lift children out of their surroundings and give them a glimpse of beauty, an understanding of nature, is a splendid thing."
As classmate ponders peculiar demands of a ski tow, Saint-Denis schoolgirls sculpt snowy image of General De Gaulle.