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Cultural differences and nursery school

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My son began nursery school this week. At first, he was a little disappointed because I had told him there would be lots of toys and actually, the nursery school has gone minimalist for three weeks already. This means there are no toys at all until the end of the minimalist experiment next week. Eventually, he is loving going there though. I am really glad to see he is happy there.

 My son is going to a typical German nursery school whereas my daughter had gone to the French-German nursery school. I found it interesting to see how different both nursery schools could be. Strangely enough, the younger the children are, the more pronounced the cultural differences in the education systems in each country. I found many of these differences between the German and the French system.

Some definitions

Nursery school in France is called „école maternelle“ which could be literally translated with „motherly school“. This is considered as a real school and children between 3 and 5 are going there. The teacher is called „maître“ ou „maîtresse“. There you have to be careful because the word maîtresse in French can either mean a school teacher or a lover according to the context. My daughter always made my German in-laws laugh because she used the word maîtresse to speak about her teacher when speaking German whereas the word only means lover in German.
In German, you can translate nursery school with „Kindergarten“. The word is also used in English but you have to be careful there because in English, kindergarten is only the last year before primary school whereas in German, „Kindergarten“ includes nursery school and kindergarten. This can be a bit confusing for English speakers.

Cultural differences


As German people are known for discipline, you would think the German nursery schools are very strict and structured… This is not the case. Actually, the French nursery school is much stricter than the German one. As already said, the French see their école maternelle as a real school. The children have a lot of time to play but the teacher has a structured class schedule including routines and lessons.

In the German nursery school, on the contrary, children are much more free to do what they want, as long as they respect the rules set by the educator. In my son’s nursery school, when children come in the morning, they can choose to eat their breakfast, or to play indoors, or they can go and play outsides. The children are also less supervised than in the French nursery school. For instance, one little boy in my son’s group chose to build a giant paper plane. He asked the educator for a big paper sheet and she helped him to build the paper plane. Then, the child went alone in the playground to test the new plane.

Adaptation phase

In the French nursery school, there is one day during which the teacher presents the class to the children and their parents. From the second day, the parents leave their children at nursery school and they go to work.
In German nursery schools, the adaptation phase may last a few weeks. You have to come to nursery school with your child for several day to make sure the child is not too stressed by the separation.

If you have a busy job, the German system can be stressful. Friends of mine were asked to plan a 3 weeks long adaptation phase, which was not possible for them because of their jobs. They could reduce it though. 

This difference is linked to another important cultural issue. French mothers tend to go back to work after 3 months of maternity leave. German mothers see themselves as „Rabenmütter“ (literally raven mothers, an expression used for bad mothers) if they do not stay at least 18 months to 2 years at home with their babies. 

Potty training

Regarding potty training, the German nursery school is also less strict. A child who is still wearing diapers is mot allowed to go to the French nursery school. In a German nursery school this is not seen as a problem. 

This means that French parents have more stress than German parents on this point. Whereas French parents worry that their child won’t be able to go to nursery school if he or she is not potty trained at the age of three, German parents are more likely to wait for the child to „be ready”.


Cursives are very important in the French school system and French children began to learn to write in cursives already in the last year of nursery school. German children only begin with cursives in primary school.

Lately, I discussed with a Spanish mother and we found out we had there a similar experience. Just like the French, Spanish people focus mostly on cursives. “Our” cursives are also prettier than German cursives (at least we think so).

General culture

General culture is also more important in the French nursery school than in the German one. In my daughter’s nursery school, all the painting projects seemed to be an introduction to art history. And they had an introduction to Greek mythology in the last year of nursery school. In German nursery school, the educator focus more on children’s development and well-being than on the acquisition of knowledge.


The French nursery school is free in France for all children aged 3 or more (but you have to pay if you send the child in a French nursery school abroad). In Germany, it depends on the Bundesland you live in. In some places, nursery school is free, in others you have to pay. Nursery school costs are most of the time around 200 to 300 EUR. pro month and can be included in your tax declaration.

Opening times

The French nursery school is open from 9:00 a.m to 4:30 p.m but there are possibilities to bring your child on 8:00 a.m and to fetch him or her on 18:30 if you are working long hours. You would have to pay a small fee then. When I was a child, we did not have nursery school on Wednesday and many French mothers worked to 80% to adapt to their children’s weekly schedule. Nowadays, the children work on Wednesday mornings but the Wednesday afternoons are still free.

In German nursery schools, there is a basic module from 7:30 a.m to 12:30 and there are further modules in the afternoon for which you have to pay extra. However, if one of the parents does not work, you will have little chance to get an afternoon module for your child. Moreover, German nursery school are rarely open after 05:30 p.m.


French nursery school teachers work a lot with children magazines. Indeed, many French families have abonnements to these children magazines. Every child in France knows Pomme d’Api, the most known French magazine for children between 3 and 5 years old. To be fair, Pomme d’Api is very professional. It includes a story that is as professionally written and illustrated as a real story book but also different articles, comics, short stories, games and activities ideas that introduce children to subjects such as science, emotional intelligence, cooking, yoga or even philosophy. There is also a little booklet with education tips for the parents.

In comparison, the German children magazines are much less qualitative. They sometimes include more advertising than stories to read. They also include cheap toys that usually get broken after two days. In primary school, though, the teachers are using interesting methods to make reading more fun for the children. I may write about that some day.

What about your experience with nursery school? Can you relate to some of the points described in the post?


  • Anne J.

    Oh wow! This is pretty hectic but cool! Sadly, Africa is far off. The only consolation is some of us could choose to send our children to a Montessori so at least that prepares them for primary schooling. Nursery schools here are private and costly, and they are only at learning/playing until 12:30. My child is now in grade 1 in a private school and the day finishes at 13:30, even earlier on a Friday, at 13:00. We could send our kinds to Aftercare in the afternoon for a fee. European education is truly much better than South African education system. You only need to know the passing rate, which I think is 40%, give or take. I’ll have to check. I believe it was reduced a couple of times.

    • momslovelearning

      Thanks for your comment. This is very interesting to read about your experience. There are Montessori nursery schools in Germany too. They are popular amongst parents but there are few of them and they are often expensive too, so that was not really an option for us. Waldorf nursery schools are also popular in Germany but the concept does not appeal to everyone.

      • Anne J.

        Only a pleasure. 🙂

        Unfortunately, although it could be debated as some actually do, many parents believe that there is a massive difference in the quality of education children get from private schools as opposed to public schools. Parents are willing to pay for good education, and more so, the environment. We also have the Waldorf school but it’s even more expensive than the Montessori. I wish our public school system were sufficient.

        Thinking further, I do think we have no public or government-funded nursery school…? I’ll have to find out.

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