What age did your kids go to Maternelle?


I’m having debates at the moment about what age to send my children to Maternelle. My friends children have gone age2 & 3. I understand it isn’t mandatory in France for a child to go to school until age 6.

I think my 2 year old is too young & small to go to school yet and I’m not even sure I want her to go next year when she’s 3. I then have the question over whether I put Franglais Kid No 1 & No 2 in school together or make sure they have a year between them. Presumably they wouldn’t go up to proper school until they actually reach 6 anyway regardless of how many years they spend in Maternelle?

Our village Maternelle is fairly small so I understand the children of different ages are all mixed up so does this mean if they are there from 3-6 they do all the same things again each year? Do the older ones get bored?

All advice much appreciated.


We have 3 children and moved to France when my eldest was 4 1/2. He went straight into Moyennes and settled really well. He didn’t speak a word of French when we arrived but made friends easily and quickly.

As my youngest was 6 weeks old when we arrived we put no.2 into the creche. It was amazing for the language and all of our sanity (including hers). She loved it and made lots of friends. They however, actively encouraged us to move her to school in the september after she turned 2. We didn’t and kept her at the creche until the January, 3 months before she turned 3. She was dry and she loved going with her older brother and he looked out for her and looked after her.

We then sent no.3 to school in the January the following year in to the TPS. She was 2 and 3 months by then. She was in the same class as our middle one and that really helped her settle in. The younger two were very lucky that they had been at the creche and their understanding of the French language was excellent by then. They are at one of the few private schools, it seems, that still accept children in nappies. The youngest had been dry but decided over the christmas holidays she didn’t want to be anymore, so she started in nappies but in a couple of weeks she was back on track.

For us, I have to say that the earlier you can get them immersed in the French language the better(our French is nowhere near good enough to get them even a quarter of the way to where they are now). I can see clearly how much easier it is for the two younger ones. Although the eldest is quite clearly fluent in French, and sounds like a little French child, it has been much harder than with the others.

The children do not have to start until they are 6 but as others have mentioned on here I think that would put them at such a disadvantage in CP. The maternelle especially the TPS and PS are great. The work that they produce is amazing. My middle one can clearly write her own name and copy lots of text to write in birthday cards etc, and her drawing is fantastic and the younger one has mastered writing many letters and draws some great shapes and other pictures already. They have so much fun there and really enjoy going each day.

Good luck in your decision. I am sure which ever decision you make will be the right one for your family. Don’t feel pressured in to doing anything that you don’t want to. At the end of the day if you were in the UK the children wouldn’t be at school until the September after their 4th birthday.

Yes 5 is definitely lots of fun (if that’s the word)!

That’s outrageous James, what I can’t understand is why childcare has to be so expensive in the UK, when the job done is the same as that done by nannies here in France for a fraction of the price. At worst when I had 3 kids being cared for by my nanny, it cost me 600 euros a month. And I felt that was too much!
Good luck, it won’t last forever hopefully!

well I just fell down James!

Thanks Marina, useful info. I’m certain now that she needs to go next year when she’s eligible. I had a look at putting her into Montessori school in London whilst we’re here but the fees around us are too expensive (£1500 a term!) My hubby might as well not work if we pay school fees & we’d all be happy back in France full time if that was the case :slight_smile:

I have 4 kids aged 9,7,5 and 3 and they all started school at 3 (except for nb2 who was 3 and 5 months due to being born in springtime) full-time; being French myself, letting them go to school at such a young age wasn’t an issue, it’s just the done thing, because the system is geared around it: if you employ a nanny, you lose out on some childcare benefits when your child turns 3, the nature of child benefits changes and drops, and they are usually more than ready to join up the older ones at school.

I disagree with Toute petite section, because they are still babies and there is so much pressure for them to be potty-trained, it can be difficult enough when they are 3! Petite section at 3 is a good thing because the whole Maternelle program is geared around preparing them for CP. There is a very specific curriculum beside playtime even when they start Petite section, mostly concentrating on rules re: life in a collectivity and in society, knowing dangers, recognizing letters, sounds in the french alphabet, learning to “learn” with songs&games etc… It’s not that by missing PS they will miss important lessons, but that they will miss the basics of life at school. PS is not just playschool, it really IS school.

My 2nd child’s teacher got sick when she was in Moyenne section. There followed different replacement teachers every week for 18 months, which means that the curriculum wasn’t respected and by the time she arrived in CP she (and all of her classmates, + the Moyenne section and Petite section behind them) were way behind and it took a year for the CP teacher to get them back to the level they should have been at.

The new Maternelle teacher who was ultimately appointed (sadly the original teacher died) had a hell of a job getting everybody up to gear too and there were still signs for those in GS this year (who were in PS when the teacher got sick - among whom, my second son) that there had been things amiss in the program in PS and MS.

I personally am not an advocate for the Education Nationale (having turned down the teaching profession just as I was about to go in!) but I do believe that all three levels of maternelle are important. My 3 eldest children are well integrated, happy at school and by the time my eldest started CP he was pretty much halfway through the CP program in terms of knowledge. My second son who starts CP in September this year could already read&write by the middle of Grande Section. That really shows me how much they learnt in those 3 years, whereas my 1st daughter who had the sick teacher pretty much wasted 18 months worth of knowledge in there.

My little one who has just finished petite section is already beginning to read some words and write some (they have an exceptional teacher, it has to be said), just by hearing the older ones in the classroom. And she has so much fun, it would be criminal to make her wait till CP!

All this has nothing to do with how clever the kids are, it’s down to good old hardwork from the teacher, who manages to teach whilst making it pleasant and sound like play…

But I also have to add that we live in a small village, the school (next door village) has only got 80 pupils and some very dedicated local teachers; Some friends of mine have got children in PS in town in some difficult areas and it is not quite so rosy, for some, PS is pretty much a creche…

wow 5! Now that sounds like fun!

Hi, just thought I’d add my thoughts to the thread. I’ve got 5 children and my 3 youngest all started maternelle between 2 1/2 and 3 years. The first one had a bad experience at his first village school (it’s a long story, so I’ll add a blog entry if anyones interested), we swapped him to the local town maternelle where he was very happy, the 2nd and 3rd little ones went to the same school and have had no problems. I would say it’s important for them to start young (maybe only mornings to start with) as it helps with the language and socialising. My youngest went to French nounou for 2 days a week before starting PS and that helped because she already understood a lot of spoken French.

Good luck :slight_smile:


Thanks Tracy, I think I will put her in next year when she’s 3. I didn’t realise they started writing practice.

Raphael has also just finished CP and compared to his older brothers who were educated in the UK, reading and writing is not only quicker but his handwriting is neat and joined up. I don’t even think his manual dexterity is that good- he’s got chubby little persons hands!, but his handwriting with a fountain pen (!) is near perfect.

I agree with Tracy - Alicia has just finished CP (today) and I am astounded at the speed she has learned to write (joined up…) and read…

My eldest started in TPS at the age of 2yrs 6mths, it was an absolute godsend for me and for her.

For the youngest who started in PS at 2yrs 9mths it was really a bit young but I needed to get him out of (unsuitable and unreliable) childcare and in to school. It really does depend on the child and the parent.

I can understand why not many go for PS but considering what the children are taught at our school it must be very difficult for kids to start straight away in CP. In MS the children are taught all the graphism of letters so that in GS they are able to learn all the letters, this is because in CP they hit the ground running. The speed at which they are taught to read and write is unbelievable, any child who hasn’t started school before then would be at a serious disadvantage. It may even out in later years but I’d hate to be a parent of a child that hadn’t had any formal schooling prior to CP.

I was also keen for my 2 to start school with everyone else as I feel as a foreigner it is better to try and blend in and do what the majority do. I know this is a bit sheep like and I am totally unlike that in my life but I don’t want my kids to feel more different than necessary. If they choose to be different, I’m all for it but that’s their choice not mine.

Good advice, Jacqui, I asked for the teacher’s advice each time I increased the amount of time spent at school and staying for lunch etc. and as she spends time with him at school she is able to give her considered opinion and also the benefit of her experience with all of the children.
Having sent my older boys to school in London I’m confident that the youngest is having a very good school experience- he can’t wait to get on the bus in the morning for his 5 minute trip to school- another of his requests to spend more time with his friends. Most importantly he’s super confident and doesn’t mind being left at school, with friends, family etc. my older two were terrible when left not now though (14&16) :slight_smile:

My son is now 9 and just about to move into CM1. he has been in School full time since he was 3, but was already full time in nursery from 18month.

He’s honestly loved every moment of it. I would suggest that if you get a chance to discuss with the teacher do so. I have found all of my son’s teachers great, even to the point of understanding that after 8 weeks vacation (which he spends in the UK), his French is never at it’s best at the “rentre”!

Sending him to school here has certainly been an adventure for me, but far better than he could have hoped for in the UK.

Good luck.

Hi there,
I home educate my two so wouldn’t know what to advise you. Mine are 8 and 7 and have never been to school.
Good luck with it all.
Gill x

I’m with Katie on that one.
We’ve moved last summer to give the kids the chance to settle before starting their school, both had to montessori nursery in London from the age of 2. Number one was sarting GS, and number TPS. I thought GS was going to be a walk in the park as i was convinces that CP was the class where things were getting serious (with reading and writting). GS is actually like CP was in my days!! they do a lot of writting, in cursive style, they prep the kids to read as well. The main thing too is that it teaches them life at school (like keeping quiet when the teacher talks, and sitting down for a period of time…) things that are not actually obvious. Mine took a while to get used to but he’s now fine and gets in CP next September. Number 2 started TPS, only mornings, and settled nicely, she even started to do a full day per week to get her trained up for next year! She’s from early January so one of the oldest in TPS. Their class is mixed with the PS, and the teacher assured me that they are often split into different activity groups so the old ones play on more challenging things.
Overall i would say that it is important to send them at least from MS. Apart for the social aspect of making friends, learning how to share and play together and how to behave in a group, the programs are specific and working on understanding, writting, reading and counting skills in a playful manner.

My older boys went to nursery in London from 3 and they were college and CM2 age when we moved. The youngest however was 23months when we moved in July 2006 and as our school was threatened with closure, being a small village school I was convinced into sending him in the November (to inflate numbers) at 2 and 3months. Quite evil really, as he couldn`t even speak. My personal experience is that it was very, very difficult but great now he’s in CP and about to go into CE1 (he’s six>seven in August).
When I say difficult I mean for me as he loved it and still does. Toute petite/petite/moyenne are in one class and the grande are with CP and CE1. Also, his French is very natural,he loves going to school and has friends now that he’s had since he was two.
Remember that they are treated like little people and should be out of nappies, but accidents aren’t frowned upon and in Raphael’s school they have a special bed with their name on it for a compulsory afternoon nap. R had more or less grown out of this but fell back into a routine as he was so exhausted.
We started with mornings, but he wanted more, so we went to full days after Christmas and lunch in the cantine, where apparently they can cook better than me!
I have to agree that everyone goes, even though not compulsory, so good luck making your decision

in a small village near Pezenas. I love the way you can bring your kids home for lunch from the village schools, its one of the things that really appeals to us about life in a small village. I spent my school life travelling by car, 2 buses and walking so being able to walk to the school is really key for us.

I think No 1 will probably go part time Sep 2012. Will No 2 be able to go in September 2013 if she is 3 in November 2013 or do they have to wait till they are 3? If so, can they join part way through the year once they are 3 or do they have to wait till the following Sept? I imagine my second will be ready when she’s almost 3 given she’s crawling, climbing and very vocal about feeding herself at 7.5m!

I’m sure I’ll want them to go to school asap when No 3 comes along :slight_smile:

Well I don’t think you’ll even get the option of Sep 11 anyway.

ah my 6 yr old potty trained in 3 days flat… but 2 yr old took a month or so… they are never the same!
I’m between Nimes and Montpellier - where are you?