Moving to France with Small Kids

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Last week we wrote about moving to France with babies and toddlers and this week’s subject, which is a natural follow-on is aimed at those of you who are seeking a new life in France and have primary school age kids.

For many couples, the idea of moving their kids from country to country once they’ve started school comes easily, but others worry about the upheaval it could bring. In reality, there’s absolutely nothing to worry when it comes to putting British kids into the school system in France, but like anything in life, the better prepared you are, the better the outcome is likely to be.

In this article we’ll help demystify the primary school system in France and will speak about some of the extra-curricular stuff that goes on in this great country.

The Primary School System in France

Most kids go to primary school in France when they’re six years old. In exceptional circumstances, kids that are deemed to be really bright (and at the moment that appears to be judged by their reading ability), might be recommended to go at age 5 and at the other end of the spectrum, it might be recommended that a 6 year old needs an extra year at the maternelle. That said, these circumstances are exceptional and the norm is age 6.

There are 5 classes in primary school in France. They are: CP, CE1, CE2, CM1 and CM2. CP stands for Cours préparatoire, the preparatory class; CE refers to cours élémentaire, elementary class and CM is cours moyen, the middle class. The two middle classes at primary school are really important because they are effectively the preparation and the foundation for the next educational level, collège, or middle school.

In most primary schools, kids are taught in good sized, but not over-crowded classes. While it’s hard to put an accurate figure on class sizes, big classes tends to be less of an issue in France than in the UK, particularly in the more rural areas which are popular with Brits.

Primary school classes in France, like in the UK, are headed up by one teacher for most subjects, but another teacher will typically be involved for sport or languages. The relationship between teacher and pupil is typically really close at this stage and particularly in the smaller, rural schools, there’s a real sense of community. When it comes to subject matter, the full range of subjects taught in the UK are covered, and kids are regularly tested and assessed in terms of performance.

While there’s no getting away from the fact that parachuting a 6 year old into a foreign country that speaks a different language will have it’s challenges, it’s amazing how quickly kids overcome the language barrier and get up to speed. These “Human sponges”, as they’re often referred to by French teachers who watch British kids integrating, will be thinking like French kids and speaking French fluently much quicker than most adults; so watch out!

Extra Activities for Primary School Kids

The school working week is typically four full days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with a half day on a Wednesday, although certain districts may differ. As a result, pretty much across the whole of France, Wednesday afternoon is an afternoon off for primary school kids. In the UK, that would more than likely cause a child-care issue for most working parents, but France is really geared up to occupying kids as much, or as little as they want to be occupied on a Wednesday afternoon.

In most rural villages, and in all towns and cities there’s what’s called Centres de Loisirs or Centres Aérés that are a bit like youth clubs for very young children. It’s also typical to find a whole host of sporting activities that are organised under the 1901 Association system in France. What this means is that in most locations, on a Wednesday afternoon, primary school kids can follow their passion for sport, or simply hang out with their mates in a safe and supervised atmosphere.

The other good news for parents is, when it comes to the cost of these activities, once again, in relation to UK equivalents, they’re incredibly cheap. You can typically expect a year’s membership of, for example a basketball club (that trains twice a week and has matches on a Saturday) to be less than 100 euro per child.

Rugby, basketball, football, tennis, judo, dance and gym are just some of the sports you’re likely to find on offer in even the smallest communities. From a parents point of view, this extra curricular activity gives you great exposure to meet other parents and to extend your son or daughter’s circle of friends at the same time as your own.

Thinking of Moving to France with Kids?

If you’re thinking of moving to France with primary school aged kids, here are some things you might want to do before leaving:

  • Find a language teacher who’s accustomed to working with young kids to teach them the very basics.
  • Get them interested in the language by watching French (kids) DVDs and listening to French music.
  • Seek out any French people who live close to you to meet and possibly socialise with (you’ll be amazed at how many French families there are in the UK).
Finally, here's information about French school holidays, and their dates. We hope this is useful, keep reading our French blog for advice about buying, moving and living in France.

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