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Ecole Maternelle


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My daughter will turn three in December and could start at the local Ecole Maternelle in September, however, we are a little reluctant to put her into school before her third birthday and my wife is more than happy to keep her at home with her younger sister for another year.

Her level of French isn't a problem as her mother is french, and if anything her french is far stronger than her English.

She's a very sociable little girl who enjoys playing with other children, however, we'll be moving house at the end of August and this would therefore mean moving house one week and starting school a few days later - a significant upheaval for a child who's not yet three years old.

I'm very aware of the social advantages of putting children into school early, but can't help thinking that at such a young age it simply serves as a free creche for working parents.

I'd be interested to hear your opinions on this matter.

P.S. Starting in January isn't an option!!

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The ecole maternelle that my son attended was really good, lots of the tiny ones only went for mornings (8.45 - 11.30), is that not an option?  My concern would be that without starting this year  she will find it more difficult when she does come to start as she will be in the second class and most of the other kids will have already gotten over the separation, the routine etc..

It's a personal thing, as for free creche for working parents, the high unemployment in most areas means that you can often see both parents picking up the kids so that is certainly not the case where I've lived.



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I agree with Panda. Personally I think its great seeing both Mum and Dad and sometimes Grandparents outside the school gates. If you are happy having her at home for a while yet then go for it! They are only little for a short time so enjoy her while you can. My youngest is 2, turns 3 in August, and  and we are wondering what do in September as his 5 year old brother goes to Ec Mat and just loves it. My other sons are much older and out during the day so its just John and us. I sometimes wonder if he'd like to go along with his brother in September for some other 'kiddy' company, but he's a bit slow getting out of the nappies at the moment. On the other hand, he is my 'baby' and part of me wants to hang onto him as long as possible. I'll bet you feel the same way.[:)]

Forget about 'social advantages', in my opinion Ecole Mat should be all fun and nothing else. If she appears to be getting bored at home then you may want to think about it but if she's happy at home, and you are too, then leave her be. Id let her settle into her new home first.

Good luck with the move!.


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My youngest was born in December so could start Maternelle the September before his 3rd birthday.  The approach which I took was to introduce my son slowly - one morning a week, two mornings etc.  by his 3rd birthday he was doing 4  mornings 9 - 12 noon, but if he was tired then I simply wouldnt send him, if I was tired I would send him:-)!!  He only ever did mornings the whole of petit section, may be the odd day but admittedly that was very rare - only if there was a day trip.  He did enjoy being with us and generally running me ragged!  However, I was based in the sticks on the Western side of France and I think if I am correct you are based in the South East and life is definitely more active - probably are more 'people/groups around.  I think if your daughter has access to these group type situations with her mother then this would be excellent for your daughter (+ wife) too.

As far as children bonding in little groups - this does take on any significance until the age 5/6.  I used to be able to watch my daughter in her school playground from our appartement balcony and used to think she was alone until I randomly selected another child and that child would be doing the exact same thing, just moving around the playground but with no one in particular.

Settling in will always be different for every child no matter when they start in my opinion.

Finally, if you think she is ready then she probably is, if not or are simply uncertain then she probably isn't.  Also it is a family decision as schooling affects the whole family and not just the child.



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I really think that it's best for you to go with your gut feeling. If you feel that it would be better for her to stay atv home for another year, then I would go with that. Would she be going into PS or TPS ? This would make a difference. I'm guessing PS because she is from this calendar year. If that is the case, it might be an idea to see with the instit what he/she thinks is necessary before she is ready to go into MS the following year. Maternelle is quite structured, but it has always seemed to me that the basics of PS are mainly to do with socialisation, learning to sit still etc. The real "academic learning" side seems to come out more in MS.

It's a pity that she can't start in January (it's not possible in my local maternelles either) Maybe you could see if she could go fro September but only a couple of mornings a week, I know of people who have suggested that. The school was happy because they had another child on the books (less chance of classes closing) but at the same time, they didn't always have the full compliment. A lot of maternelles actually encourage parents to keep PS children at home in the afternoon anyway, so it would probably only be mornings.

 I don't think that maternelle can be thought of as free child care for working parents, but I do know a lot of people who put their kids into maternelle as soon as possible, partly because it was free but mostly because you keep hearing how important it is for "socialisation"  etc. I think there is a grain of truth in that idea. If you look at the lack of mother and toddler groups ect in France, a lot of young children don't really get much experience of being in groups, so maternelle is possibly a good solution for them. There have been a lot of reports over the years about how children who start maternelle younger have better language/socialisation abilities than those who don't, but when you look deeper, you see that most of the studies are of children from very socially deprived families or  families where no french is spoken and who maybe need more stimulation or language help.

Actually I do know people who have sent nearly threes to maternelle in the September, only to have the school  ask them after a few weeks to keep the child at home for a few months more. Most of these cases are indeed working parents who didn't want to pay child care any more and who sent their children to maternelle at 2 and a bit, regardless of whether they were ready or not (most of them found themselves toilet training in the last week of August with an unprepared child. One refused to accept the school's comment that her child was not toilet trained because as far as she was concerned it was quite normal for her son to not use a toilet from 8.30 to 4.30- he stayed at the cantine, it was cheaper- and wait to get home and then do it in a nappy) Most of these children were boys, who are often a little bit slower in developing. So saying, I also know children who were completely ready at two and a bit and who settled really well. So much depends on the child and the family, you are the only people who can judge that.

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It's a subject that we've naturally given a lot of thought to. I'm a primary school teacher myself and therefore already have quite an insight into this matter, however, when it comes to taking the right decision for your own children you enter into a whole new ball game.

I'm fully aware of just how challenging it is to teach this age group and am greatly appreciative of all the good work that is done with young children, however, in reality, not all teachers are flexible/professional/motivated enough to adapt to the individual needs of all of their class and I therefore am inclined to think that my daughter would be better off staying at home for another year rather than an starting at such a young age and possibly being viewed as a burden. I wholeheartedly agree that it would be beneficial if she could start on a part-time basis prior to this (January onwards for example) or attend some form of group activity that will enable her to become further accustomed to playing, exploring and sharing alongside other children.

We eventually intend to move her into an International School, in which entrance is based upon the academic year (as in the UK) rather than the calendar year (as in France). This will mean that if she moves at the end of CM1 she would then go into a year 5/Grade 4 class and be one of the oldest children in the class as opposed to being one of the youngest in the French system - research shows this to be an important and advantageous factor in academic achievment).

The International School option is not intended as a rejection of what the French system has to offer; I teach in an International School and would like my daughters to have the opportunity to sample both systems and their subsequent strengths and weaknesses.

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Hello Cjb,

It seems to me that you have already decided what you want to do - you are a teacher and you know your child better than anyone on this forum so doubtless you will make the best decision. You have another child (and a french-speaking parent) so that's great- our boy was on his own in an english-speaking household so we decided that he would go to the local school before he was three - he went mornings only for the first couple of terms and built up to afternoons. We were both at home at the time and certainly didn't see it as a free creche, just an important step for our son to learn certain social and language skills. For us, it was the right decision.

Do you live in a rural area or a town/city? I must confess that I was surprised to hear that you had already considered your daughter's academic achievements with regards to her age for the school year...surely this age is to do with interacting with others rather than who is the highest in the class?! She's only two!

Either way, if you are in a rural area and intend to stay there then I would imagine some interaction with local children would be beneficial - the best way to do this would be to go to the local school a few mornings a week. At least she will have established a few local bonds before leaving for CM1 in an international school, and that could help her no end in the holidays. I guess in a town or city things are different, but I'm afraid I have no experience there.

My son spoke next to no french when he started school, was not completetely out of nappies and was a stubborn so-and-so to boot - I never for one minute felt that he was being regarded as a burden. Primary school teaching is certainly not the profession for me - not nearly enough patience!

Good luck to you and your family - you have thought about it a lot and will, I am sure, make the best decision for your children,


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We currently live close to Nice and will be moving to the outskirts of Nice in a couple of months time.

Of course I want my daughters to have fun and to enjoy themselves; believe me I've come across enough hurried children to have seen the effects such an approach can have. However, extensive research shows that being amonst the youngest in a cohort can serve as a real disadvantage; what I'm talking about would mean my daughter effectively repeating a year as opposed to being rushed through.

She'll spend at least fourteen years in education, therefore for us there's no rush; that's not to say we won't end up regretting the decision and doing the opposite with her sister!! I suppose this is just part and parcel of the trials and tribulations of parenthood!!

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