When my husband told me that our little girl will start school when she is 2 or 3 years old, I nearly flipped out ! Okay, maybe I actually did and gave him one of my stubborn “No, that is out of the question” responses. But what do you expect when a person is raised on the fact that kids start kindergarten when they are 5 years old?
Sending a 2 or 3 year old off to school for 7.5 hours a day seems a bit much to me. So I set out to understand what I am getting my daughter into by living in France versus the USA.
Kids are first sent to nursery school (maternelle) when they are around 2 or 3 years old. I now understand that what my husband was referring to was just nursery school and not general school. Phew! Public ecole maternelle is free and not mandatory, but about 30% of children at the age of 2 and nearly 100% at the age of 4 attend. Not all schools accept children under 3 years old so parents have to do their homework.
It is a long day for kids, as school generally begins at 9am and ends at 4:30pm – the time may vary depending on if living in a major city or small village. Parents usually have the choice to send the children for half-days at the beginning and there is a mandatory naptime after lunch. Each age group is divided into classes: toute petite section for 2 year olds, petite section for 3 year olds, moyenne section for 4 year olds and grande section for 5 year olds.
The purpose of ecole maternelle is to develop the children’s social and coordination skills, as well as oral expression and communication. This is accomplished primarily through arts and crafts, music and games. However, usually around 4 years old some time is devoted to introducing kids to reading, writing and math.
I found out that it generally takes a child who missed nursery school about 6 months to catch up to those that did attend. Since my husband and I both work at home, we do not have a pressing need to send her off to school each day. However, I feel that nursery is an excellent way for her to develop social and communication skills – especially since we want her to be bilingual (speaking English at home and French at school). Moreover, we do not want her to be behind the other students when she starts actual school. We decided that we will most likely start her at the age of 4 unless when she is 3 years old we see a dire need for her to attend. If she starts at 3, it will most likely be only for half-days if that option is available.
Image Credit: caseywest on flickr.com