Today we are going on a field trip to France, where I live with my 2-and-a-half-year-old Franco-American daughter. She’ll be starting preschool in the fall after she turns 3. We have a couple of options that I want to cover today.
(What I mean by preschool is sometimes called nursery school or play school. It means the period of schooling that precedes elementary school.)
I’ve wanted to share this information with you in a post for some time, as I have pondered our options and come to a decision for C. But I hesitated because I didn’t think it would be relevant for most of my readers.
I finally decided just to write it: for myself, for the sliver of Anglophone expats who want to find out about preschool options in France, and for the rest of you, who just might find it interesting reading.
Grab a tall latte to go for your car’s cup holder and let’s go to school!
Preschool in France: Bringing you up to speed
A little bit of background is necessary before we dive into the 4 preschool options in France.
When I moved here 10 years ago, school was mandatory starting at age 6. While the majority of parents still sent their kids to school much earlier, it’s nice to know that at least you had the option of waiting in case you felt your son or daughter wasn’t ready.
Today, school is mandatory starting at age 3. Many parents choose to send their children to school full-time at this age. As you will see below, there are different options that fulfill this requirement, and not all necessarily full-time.
I believe the reason for requiring school so young is so that a majority of parents can get back to work full-time, thus boosting the economy (as opposed to one or both parents taking leave of work for the first 6 years or so of their child’s life).
Another major benefit in French culture is that school is a secular institution where the values of the Republic are taught to all children. If it sounds a little cult-like, it probably is. The point today isn’t to debate the system here in France (although please feel free to sound off in the comments), but it’s good to know the parameters we are working with according to the current law.
The other requirement for school is that your child needs to be potty trained. For most kids, this isn’t a problem to be out of diapers by age 3.
But consider the ones born later in the year, in December for instance. They must start school the September preceding their birthday, so technically they are entering school at age 2.
In any case, I can say from my experience that the impending potty training deadline of September 1st does put some pressure on parents to get their children out of diapers well before the school year starts. I think it’s an arbitrary deadline, because it should be child-led and not forced. But again, that’s a discussion for another article.
Now you know the 2 basic requirements to start school in France. Below are the various preschool options available to you in France.
Preschool in France Option A. Jardin d’enfants
The jardin d’enfants (or children’s garden, which is also where we get the German word kindergarten from) is for children aged 2 to 6. The jardin d’enfants is described as an intermediate solution between daycare and elementary school.
I couldn’t find any obligation that your child must be potty trained, so if you are considering a jardin d’enfants, ask before you enroll your child.
There are public and private options for jardins d’enfants. The public ones are subsidized, meaning the cost you pay is not only personalized to your family’s income, but you may also be eligible for a tax credit. The private ones have their own rates and are not subsidized.
Private schools in France are another popular option. They tend to be affiliated with a religion, most notably Catholicism or Judaism.
As you guessed, private school is not free. Each private school determines its own rates. Since you are paying for private school, most of them are more flexible when it comes to half-day or January start options.
Private schools have their own enrollment schedules. Although class sizes can be larger than in public schools, they do have limited spots available. So if you think you want to go the private school route, best explore your options as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. If you can get your foot in the door with your first child, the private school usually does you the courtesy of saving a spot for any eventual siblings.
Preschool in France Option D. Homeschooling
President Macron introduced measures in October 2020 to block all homeschooling, except for very specific cases, beginning September 2021. The law is still under debate and has now been delayed to concern the start of the September 2022 school year. It’s shocking, and it’s a huge debate, and I don’t want to get into the politics of it today. But this is the latest update we have on homeschooling in France.
So, if you are considering homeschooling your child, the 2021-2022 school year may be your last year to do it.
You still need to “enroll” your child with the town hall to let them know that you are fulfilling the requirement of schooling at age 3 for your child in the form of homeschooling.
Plan for about a half an hour of instruction each day (yup, that’s it!). You will have one visit in the fall from a government representative to verify that you have been instructing your child in some form (you are not obligated to follow the state’s curriculum for public schools).
Here are some documents you should prepare when enrolling your child in preschool in France:
Proof of address no older than 3 months (electricity bill, rental payment, lease, etc.)
Vaccination records of your child
Your livret de famille or a birth certificate
For separated or divorced parents, a judge’s decision on custody (in the case of sole custody, you will also need to provides the other parent’s official written statement agreeing to the enrollment of your child)
Your school’s enrollment application
Application for before-school or after-school care, with payment
These are what our public school district requires. Because it’s a nationalized system, the documents should be the same for public schools across the country. Private schools may require different documents.
Preschool is in session
You might be interested to know that, after considering the options, we’ve chosen public school for C.
I really wanted to homeschool her until about age 6, especially to be able to speak to her more in English in these early years. But it’s clear to me now that she is ready for more socialization and that to be honest, I probably couldn’t cope with working from home at the same time as homeschooling her (unless of course I had to for pandemic-related reasons).
A popular option in our area is private school in the nearest town, especially after the villages on either side of us closed their schools a couple of years ago. But Papa and I didn’t want to play taxi to our kids twice a day for several years, nor did we want to pay tuition essentially for our daughter to learn her colors and numbers.
So we went with the public school option in a village sort of between our house and the main town. But there is a school bus that can bring C there once she feels ready to take it. Until then, I’ll be playing taxi.
Looking for more insight into life in France with a little one? Check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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