If you’re thinking about moving to France you might want to learn from our mistakes with regards toddlers and their socialisation/schooling.
With Hindsight We Should Have Taken The Pre-School Place Offered
When we were making our arrangements to move last year we visited La Belle Fille’s school. At that time the directrice had asked us if we had wanted to enroll La Jolie Fille too. They were unusual for a school in that they could take children as young as two. As we were just about to move I thought that it would be better to take her to playgroups as it would give me opportunities to socialise and I felt she was too young to go to what basically was a pre-school. “Give it a few months first, then she’ll be ready I thought.”
This was a mistake. These places went and there were none available later in the year when I changed my mind for the reasons I’m outlining below. So the advice I’d give to anybody is don’t just assume the opportunities are going to be the same in France as they are at home; As With everything else, although at first glance it looks similar, that can be deceiving. France is a different culture and this is reflected in childcare arrangements.
The Early Years System In France
When we arrived it took us a while to get settled and finding our way around in another language, as well as encountering different social norms, I found that I didn’t actually get her to the play groups until the October.
Playgroups, or Associations Rerispontre Échange Parents Enfants, are run by the state. You pay something like €2 a year (yes, for the whole year, not a session). They have keyworkers there to listen and give advise.
When we arrived at one I was late. I expected to see lots of mums, maybe some dads and lots of toddlers; the same experience as at home. It was by that time nearly 3 o’clock and the session started at 2, but there were no other children there. Just me and the two key workers attached to the group. As the time went on two other mothers came and a grand total of three children, however as this was nearly 4 o’clock when they arrived and I had to leave at 4.20 to pick up La Belle, we really didn’t have much time to meet anyone.
Playgroups Aren’t Well Attended
The same group of keyworkers run another group on the Tuesday and Friday. The Friday one I could never find, it still holds a mystical aura for me like Brigadoon from the Gene Kelly film, but we did manage to go to the Tuesday group. Even less children.
One day I plucked up the courage to ask; ” Are there ever any more children who come”. The response wasn’t one I was expecting; “Oh, the Monday group is a lot busier.” Really?
I don’t know what it is in France but, at least here in the provences, no-one seems to use these groups. By the time we moved into our rental out of our friends gîte in December I kind of gave up going as it really wasn’t benefitting the little one.
I said earlier the culture is different and it affects things that are available for children and i often wonder to myself if it’s the strong family network that’s still prevalent in France that makes playgroups less attended. After all, When you spend your time in extended family, why would you need it?
As I said, I decided I’d see if I could get a place at La Belle’s school, but it was now fully subscribed, I had to fill in an application in the new year. Around mid-January I decided to look for another crèche as I was really worried about La Jolie Fille’s interaction.
Be Prepared For Appointments and Paperwork
The first one I went to I spoke with a receptionist. Nobody seems to speak to you in France without a rendezvous, so one was dutifully made. I went back a few days later and filled in the forms. Their very kind directrice then told me she’d have to look to see if there was a place. I must admit I was left wondering why she didn’t look that up before we arranged the meeting.
When she did contact me there was no place available. So I had to start the process again at another site, further away. As the directrice of this one had been ill for some time I had no ability to have the requisite meeting, and so we waited for her to return.
When we did meet she had a space (yay) so we started to fill in paperwork. I brought somethings with me that I thought would be helpful; my passport, La Jolie’s birth certificate and a bill with our address on it. I didn’t have enough. She asked me for another document, I think it must have been a carte de séjour, but she looked completely flumuxed when I said I didn’t have one. She didn’t have a clue what to do, what to charge me, if I could even go! She found Le Mairie’s office; yes I was a resident, yes I could have access to the crèche. She put the phone down and said “but you have left Europe!” Completely non-plussed. Ahh, I get it, Brexit.
I don’t think she was being delibaretely obstructive, it was probably that she hadn’t dealt with a non-French resident (it was only a small, village crèche and people always tell you the local English people) and as far as she new that’s it, we were out.
I explained that no, we weren’t. Article 50 hadn’t been triggered yet and up until the point of departure we had all of the rights and all of the responsibilities. Also I was an Irish citizen, so we will still be able to remain. She gave me a look, a Gallic shrug with an expression that says “it’s bizarre” and a lit of what documents I needed. Did I have a place? She didn’t know now, she had to contact someone else and get their advice.
I left, uncertain of what was going to happen, but with a time to call. When I did I was offered a temporary place, until the paper work was completed. I went again, loaded down; my passport, Le Marie’s passport, a bill with our address, La Jolie’s birth certificate, La Belle’s certificate, doctor’s details, immunisation records, insurance certificates. I think that’s everything. It took us half an hour to fill in all the forms; it’s France. It is what it is, what’s the point in complaining about a bit of beurocracy?
Be Prepared For Gradual Introductions
Since then La Jolie has been able to go on a temporary basis. It seems the French are very cautious about ensuring a child is suitable for the crèche in question, which I’m impressed by. She’s done a half an hour, then an hour and was about to do two hours today, but a bad cold and slight temperature made us think to perhaps put her off for a couple of days.
She loves it. The first day when I arrived to pick her up she saw me, dropped what was in her hands and waved at the carers; “awah!” They all thought she was so cute.
The next time she was happily playing outside. She did not want to leave; oh dear. I’m so happy that she’s finally getting the interaction she needs.
But, You’ll Be Delighted By The Price!
Perhaps another reason that there aren’t many mothers in playgroups is because crèches are so inexpensive? When the paperwork thing was still not resolved the directrice was worried; I’d have to pay the full amount. She said this with such trepdiation I was concerned. How much was it going to be?!!! €1,93. Yeah, we can afford that.
It’s state subsidised of course. If we had been in the system (we’re still having difficulty with the paperwork for Le Marie’s business to enter the tax system properly), but if we were we would be paying something like 0,30€ an hour!