How I Enrolled My Child in Preschool in France (for one month)

Bonjour les amis! Je m'excuse--I've chosen to focus on homeschooling and homemaking lately, and I took an unforeseen break from blogging. Nonetheless, I missed writing and I definitely look forward to the times I get to reconnect with you. Today I want to answer a question posted on Intentional Mama's Facebook page about exactly how I managed to enroll my three-year-old son in public preschool while we lived in Lyon, France. We were only there until the end of September, but attending French school was an opportunity I didn't want my son to miss! I can't promise that you or your friend would be able to enroll your child based on these two steps, but honestly the process was far easier that I expected and it's worth trying!

Ecole Maternelle by Yvette Gauthier, 1898

Ecole Maternelle by Yvette Gauthier, 1898

1. I contacted the public school nearest to where we were living.

I found out last-minute that my son could not attend the same private school that my daughter would be attending, so I scrambled to find another educational option for him before la rentrée. The closest Montessori preschool turned out to be too expensive and the crèche (nursery/daycare) at the city hall was full, so I headed for the local public school, which my neighbors said was wonderful.

French schools can feel like fortresses when you're standing outside--I needed to push a buzzer beside the metal exterior door simply to talk with the secretary. But of course she let me in to speak with the directeur, who was very kind. He asked a few questions (such as whether my son was potty trained--a strict requirement), and then he assured me that my son would be welcome.

2. At the request of the school directeur, I took the required paperwork to la mairie (the neighborhood city hall).

Here's the paperwork I needed to provide:

La Tour Rose, Lyon, France

La Tour Rose, Lyon, France

  • My passport and my son's passport (in lieu of the carte de famille, which only French citizens have).

  • My son's vaccination record: The French have a carnet de santé, but all I had was a handwritten note detailing my son's vaccines and the dates given (somehow I had misplaced the official copy I'd brought to France). The only vaccination necessary for enrollment was DTaP or DTP.

  • Proof of residency: normally I would have needed an electric bill or another utility bill displaying my name and local address. However, I explained to the city clerk that I wasn't fiscally responsible for the utilities in our rental apartment and we were simply staying for a month longer to improve our French. I think I may have shown her a library card or something that provided some evidence that we were living locally, but I don't recall that I had anything convincing. Nonetheless, she agreed to waive this proof of residency requirement for us. Incroyable! Had she not budged on this requirement, I was prepared to have my Airbnb apartment manager write a letter of verification of residency at our address.

My son in a geometric dome near the Musée d'Art Contemporaine, Lyon, France

My son in a geometric dome near the Musée d'Art Contemporaine, Lyon, France

While straightforward, this enrollment process took about 30 minutes, during which my son was very patient! The city clerk asked quite a few questions for our online dossier, including whether my son had any allergies and whether he would stay at the cantine for lunch and if he would return home in the afternoon. All of this information was printed out in a enrollment form that listed the precise hours that my son would be at school.

3. I took the proof of enrollment form back to the school directeur, and voilà--my son was enrolled!

Honestly, the directeur couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming despite the fact that we were completing the enrollment process on the first day of class. The experience of sending my son to this school has convinced me that one of the nicest aspects of public schools is the community aspect, enabling both children and parents to meet and befriend families from the surrounding neighborhood.

I  hope this encourages you or a friend in their hopes for school immersion in France. I'm still surprised that I was able to enroll my son using a handwritten list of vaccinations and without formal proof of residency, but I'm so grateful!

Have you had a hassle of a school enrollment experience for your child, or has it always been straightforward?

UPDATE September 2018:

Based on our most recent experience enrolling our American children in French schools, I suggest bringing proof of income (W2 form, salary agreement etc.). The Mairie (city hall) wants to know your income after taxes to calculate how much your family will pay for your child’s school lunch, extracurricular activities, and before/after school care if needed. These costs are calculated on a sliding scale based on your income and family size.

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