Being a Student in France: Nursery School (Part 1)

This is the first episode of a 5 parts series in which I’m going to talk about French education and my experience with it, starting with “la maternelle”, which is the equivalent of Nursery School.


La maternelle is the school for the younger children, from 2-3 to 5 years old, all the maternelles are public and the attendance levels are high as almost 100% of the children aged four are attending la maternelle even if it’s not a compulsory school. They develop their basic faculties, improve their speaking skills and are introduced to the world of reading and writing, numbers and other key areas of learning.

La maternelle hours are from 08.30 to 16.30 on week days, excepting one Wednesdays when there’s no school. Kids eat at the canteen which usually costs around 40€ a month.

There’s one teacher for each class of about 20 children.


La maternelle is divided into 3 to 4 sections, depending on schools:

-the very small section, with children from 2 to 3 is the first one. Only children who are toilet trained by September can attend. The kids learn how to be students, start to make real friends and get used to drawing, singing and else. I personally started La Maternelle at 2 and a half years old and I still can remember a few bits from this year.

-the small section is composed of children from 3 to 4 years old who spend 26 hours a week in class (not including lunch time which is served at school nor “la garderie” which takes place after 4PM and where children whose parents are working stay at school and play) and learn how to use the, sadly very hard french language, a little bit better.

-the middle section which children attend when they’re 4 to 5 is the one I remember the best: my teacher was great, my group of friends was really coming together and we had a lot of fun at, and outside school. In this year the kids get a better notion of the time and the seasons, and get better at everything they have been learning before.

-the big section is the last one of La Maternelle and the kids are 5 to 6. This year is very important as it’s kind of a rehearsal of the next year and it’s when the children start to learn how to read and how to count.


I’m now going to tell you a little bit more about my maternelle experience. My family had just moved to Paris when I intended my first class and I can’t remember anything from the first days. But I know that la maternelle is where I met friends who I’m still in touch with, it’s where I learned how to live with others and how to be independent. I guess that some of you who are reading this (if anyone is reading this..) must think that we’re crazy to send our children to school all day at such a young age, but in my mind it’s at this young age that you can become who you deeply are and learn how to live in society.

Finally, here are some random memories about nursery school that I still have:

– I remember spending all of my breaks running around with my best friend

– I remember doing singing shows in front of all of the parents every Christmas and June

– I remember going to the zoo with my classmates and being so afraid of the wolves

– I remember not wanting to eat green peas at the canteen and putting them under the children-sized tables

– I remember having to pee in the door-less toilets while everyone was doing the same

– I remember how innocent and happy I was.


I hope you found this interesting and I’d love it if you could tell me what to improve for the next article of this series.