The French System of Education - Ages 3 - 6

The education system in France is quite standardized for curriculum throughout the whole country.

In many countries, the best education is obtained in private schools. In France, the best education is obtained in the public system.

This fact alone can make the cost of living in France much cheaper – especially if you have six children like I do! Students transferring from private to public schools frequently must sit for an exam to make sure they are at the appropriate level for the class they are entering.

Though not mandatory until age 6, free public school starts for the vast majority of children in France at age 3. Every village has an Ecole Maternelle (ages 3 – 6), as well as an Ecole Primaire (age 6 through end of CM2, which is the equivalent of 5th grade in the states). Collège and Lycée (middle school and high school) are more regional just like in the states.

Ecole Maternelle has 3 distinct years: petite section, moyen section, and grande section (equivalent to kindergarten). The teachers are all very well trained, have received a university degree in early childhood education, and been credentialed by the Ministère de l’Education Nationale. There is always an assistant in the classroom, as well.

The curriculum is excellent, and is very developmentally appropriate.

Maternelle hours are 9am to 12noon, and 2pm to 5pm. It is not uncommon for parents to choose to send their 3 or 4 year olds for the mornings only if the whole day seems too long for them.

Most maternelle students go home for lunch from 12noon until 2pm, but can stay for “cantine” if the parent wants or needs for them to do so. Cantine tickets are bought in the local mayor’s office for about 3 euros each. Lunch in cantine includes several courses: appetizer, main course, salad, cheese, and dessert! The cantine supervisors teach the little ones good table manners, and even how to use their knife to cut their food!

Children under 4 years old take a nap after lunch for about an hour.

Age cut-off for starting school is the calendar year, not the fall. Children start CP (Cours Prepatoire), which is the equivalent of first grade, the fall of the calendar year they turn 6. Therefore, if you have a child with a birthday after the cut-off date for starting school in the U.S., but their birthday is December 31 or before, then they will be one grade ahead in France versus the U.S.

To learn more about the scope and sequence, the vocabulary of school days and school supplies,


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