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Moving to France with Babies and Toddlers
One of the main attractions of moving to France with kids is the fact that it’s a country that embraces the whole notion of ‘les enfants’ with open arms. In the UK, we’re accustomed to timidly asking if restaurants accept children and fearing the response, even though we’re the paying customers. In France, all but the top, top, top restaurants would laugh at the notion of this question; not to be impolite, but because they accept it as a fact of life that the younger members of the family eat with the older members. This social inclusion of children extends to pretty much every social event across the formal and informal calendar and really makes France a jewel in the crown for those of us who have little kids.
When you decide to move to France with a baby or a toddler, the likelihood is that you’ll be leaving behind a nursery or the pre-school system that you’re familiar with and entering unchartered waters, but with a bit of preparation and only some basic French, you have absolutely nothing to fear. The one thing you won’t have from Day 1 is Grandma and Grand-dad on hand if you need them, but so many people no longer have that family network in the UK these days, that that probably won’t be an issue.
When you move to France with babies and toddlers, it’s completely normal that you’ll be a tiny bit uptight about how to deal with everything from birthday celebrations to doctor’s appointments, but you’ll quickly find out that your little ones are a direct passport to a friend and support system that will be of huge value to you.
One of the first things you’re likely to want to do is get your baby or toddler involved in some sort of group childcare so both they and you, can meet and socialise with others in your new home country. Socialisation is a highly important part of child development, but in this case, not only will they be learning social skills, they’ll be immediately immersed in the new language and culture of your new country. The other plus point is that you too will be forced to make the effort to communicate with other Mums and Dads and this will stand you in great stead for your development as well.
Childcare options for babies in France
In France, there are both public and privately run nurseries in bigger towns and cities, which are known as crèches or haltes garderies and they welcome babies from the age of 3 months, until they head off to maternelle school. Public nurseries are organised and funded by both regional and local authorities and for us Brits are incredibly cheap compared to the private nursery system we’re familiar with in the UK. As you would expect, private nurseries fees vary, depending on supply and demand and location.
What you might find in very small communities, is that places are hard to find and you may need to join a waiting list. Either way, French crèches are, generally speaking, really well organised, welcoming places for parents and babies to integrate into their new lives.
The alternative to organised nursery care in France is the home-based assistante maternelle system whereby a qualified ‘nanny’ looks after babies and very small children either in your home or in their own home. Again this option is very attractively priced, but exposes you and your child to fewer contacts, because an assistante maternelle will typically only be allowed to look after five children at one time.
Of course there is the option to take on a private nanny, but unless you’re working in a busy city and struggling to find grouped care, this would option is much less effective in helping you really get integrated into your new life.
Childcare for really young children in France
When your child is aged between 2.5 and 3 years of age and is free of nappies, he or she will become eligible to go to maternelle school in France. The école maternelle system, for us Brits is a truly remarkable opportunity for both parents and children alike. A colourful and friendly environment, école maternelle is a great place for your young child to start to mix with the kids they’ll spend the majority of their school life, assuming of course you don’t move.
Normally attached to the local primary school, the maternelle is split into three sections: petite section, which is for kids aged 2.5 to 4; moyenne section, which is for kids aged 4-5 years and grande section, which is for 5 to 6 year olds. The whole notion of the maternelle is that it serves as the ‘apprenticeship’ for schooling and when kids leave maternelle, they’ll typically have learned the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
At the maternelle, any child will have the chance to play, learn, eat, sleep and generally enjoy themselves in a safe and controlled environment, but an expat child getting involved in the French education system at this early stage will develop huge advantages in their new life adventure. They’ll typically absorb the local language and culture like a sponge at this early age and will soon feel almost as French as the French kids they’re mixing with day-in and day-out