Updated: Apr 24
Congrats! Your child has been accepted into daycare (crèche). It is not an easy feat in the Paris region. If this is your first time with childcare, or first time using daycare in France, you might not be sure what to expect. The following article will cover general topics about crèche collective (not about crèche parentale, or assistantes maternelles).
Personally, I have recent experience with a child in both private and public crèche, as a baby and as a toddler, for a total of three years (not counting Covid lockdowns and holidays of course). This allowed me to see how different crèches were run, and what sending a baby versus a walking toddler was like. My daughter benefited greatly from both crèches and I am so glad we had the opportunity to be a part of these little communities.
Here are some general things to know before starting crèche:
Directeur/Directrice: The head of the crèche is the directrice, they will be in email contact with you once you are accepted, about paperwork and contract. The directrice has extensive training and experience in early childhood development and often have degrees in nursing. They are in charge of staffing, communication with parents, and the general running of the crèche. Expect to get emails from the directrice about contagious illnesses or lice, they notify all parents if there are cases of Covid, lice, chicken pox, hand, foot and mouth disease etc. This is so parents can decide whether or not to keep their kids home, or to monitor them for symptoms. I always appreciated the transparency of communication and knew that the health and safety of the children was being prioritized.
Staff Caregivers: The crèche caregivers, les professionnels, are trained in child development and safety and depending on their education are auxiliaires de puéricultrices, or éducateurs de jeunes enfants.
Crèche Chef: Each crèche has a dedicated chef, cuisinier, to prep bottles and make meals. They also maintain the standards of food safety from storage to preparation to sanitation.
Additional professionals: our public crèche had a psychologist who would visit all the crèches in the city monthly, they were there for staff to talk to and parents if there were any concerns about the development of the children. If your crèche is bilingual or has an aim of teaching another language, there might be a professional who occasionally comes in to read to the children in the target language. Sometimes there were child development interns who were doing a stage and the crèche always notified the parents with a sign explaining who the new person was and what they were doing. The crèche might help you out with identifying all the different staff members, one we went to had the names and photos of all the staff on display.
The staff also do fire drills and lockdown drills with the children. In the case of a fire drill they have to evacuate all children within a mandated minimum time. In case of a lock down drill, they have to move all children into a safe room within a mandated amount of time. The creche has different alarms for the different scenarios. Feel free to ask them if you have any questions about the drills.
Additional information about holiday and end-of-year gifts:
It is customary to give gifts to the staff before the Christmas vacances and at the end of the year in summer. What one gives can vary from chocolate or a homemade baked good for the team, to gift cards when your child “graduates”. It is really up to you and how you want to thank them, they work very hard and aren’t paid very much.
It is normal, for security reasons, to not get a tour until you start crèche adaptation. Crèche facilities include (ideally) stroller/pram storage, an office for the directrice, cubbies for the kids’ clothes and shoes, interior play rooms with changing facilities and kids’ potties, sleeping rooms, a break room for staff, kitchen, and exterior play area.
The play rooms will have equipment and toys appropriate for the development of the kids. A baby room will have foam mats, small beanbag cushions, mirrors for stimulation on the walls and beginner level climbing furniture like a wide wooden step/slide. Toddler rooms will have everything from play kitchens to Pikler-esque triangles, as well as dolls and blocks and magnetic tiles. Any furniture is selected for functionality and safety, for example special chairs for the staff to sit in while giving bottles. Because kids like to climb, there is a limited amount of furniture, and the space is used for play areas. (You or your partner might see this yourselves. All crèches start a child at their facility by going through roughly a week of slowly adjusting to the crèche, with one parent coming with them, called adaptation. We will be posting about what to expect in a crèche adaptation soon!)
Organization of Crèches
Crèches vary by number of children and the layout of the building. Because crèches accept babies from two months old to toddlers three and a half years old, there are a lot of different needs! One we went to separated the kids by ability to walk. There was a baby room, then as soon as they could walk upstairs, they went to the big kids room upstairs. In the baby room, each baby had a dedicated caregiver. Another crèche we went to mixed all the kids of all ages together, with a special area for babies with a dedicated caregiver for the babies. There are rules which say how many babies or toddlers are allowed per caregiver, so there isn’t a problem with ratios of kids to caregivers. By law in France, crèches collectives have either 1 caregiver for 6 children, or 1 caregiver per 5 children who cannot walk and 1 caregiver per 8 children who can walk.
Drop-off and Pick-up Procedures
Crèches are very secure, the entrance to the facility will require a code, one crèche we used had two locked doors needing codes to get in. Additionally, they need to know who is coming in to pick up the children. For example, my mother while visiting, picked up my daughter a few times and we emailed the crèche directrice in advance with my mom’s name and upon arrival, the directrice checked my mom’s passport to verify who she was. The safety of the children is their priority.
The crèches are also dedicated to cleanliness. Because there are so many babies and toddlers on the ground, parents wear (provided) shoe covers inside the crèche. The covers are provided outside of the play room and you put them on before entering, and you put the used covers in a box when leaving.
When bringing a child in the morning, there is a step to check in whether it be a touch screen for you or it is logged by the staff. This matters because hours and days are an important part of your contract with the crèche (if you go over time, you will be charged), and they schedule staff around when the kids are coming and going because of the mandated ratios of kids to staff.
Kids’ shoes and jackets and extra clothes go in cubbies. (Don’t worry if your kid has an accident and you don’t have their extra clothes that day-the crèche has extra clothes to dress your kid in, simply wash and bring back). For babies, there is a counter height surface in the entrance to the play room, to easily change them out of their jackets. Both crèches we used had signs about safety while using the table and the directrice verbally corrected parents who did not have a hand on their child the entire time they were on the changing table. Again, they are always thinking about safety.
Communication at Check-in and Check-out
When you drop your kid off in the morning the staff might ask you a few questions (they call it transmission). When my daughter was a baby, they wanted to know when she last had milk, so they knew when to feed her again. It is important at check in to tell them things about your kids’ physical state like “she didn’t want to eat this morning”, “he didn’t sleep much last night”, “she had shots/jabs yesterday”, etc. to give the staff a basic overview of what your kid might be like that day or something specific you want them to watch out for.
When you pick your child up, the staff will tell you about the day and you can ask any specific questions. I had one crèche (private) who would take notes throughout the day about what she did. When she was older, they didn’t give much information other than if she slept.
What to Bring to Crèche?
There are a lot of things to bring to crèche, (and not bring).
Clothes: Our private crèche for my baby had a good rule to dress a baby in a vest/onesie and leggings (I’m guessing it was for comfort for the baby, as well as practicality for the caregivers. The babies took naps in their onesies and then had leggings put back on after they woke up). This is all to say, choose clothes comfortable for a kid to wear all day (and no dresses for crawling babies). Also, choose shoes (for older kids especially) that are velcro or easy to get on. I witnessed a lot of little kids in leather lace-up shoes and can’t imagine how much patience the caregivers had fiddling with laces. In the spring, I packed a hat that tied under my daughter’s chin, but the crèche also had little hats for all the kids (don’t assume yours will though, and buy the hat ahead of a sunny day). Side note: it is generally a good idea to get clothes a season ahead so you aren’t left scrambling for t-shirts or boots.
Doudou: The French have a cultural belief that every child should have one stuffed animal, called a doudou, that is brought to crèche, preschool (maternelle), and generally everywhere with the child. If you can, encourage your child to choose a doudou (or choose for them, if possible) that you can buy multiples of. My child bonded with a Jellycat rabbit then I quickly bought a second and would take turns washing them. Doudous are so ubiquitous, around town it is not uncommon to see found doudous propped up on fences and see posts on local groups of parents trying to find their child’s lost doudou.
Baby care items: One crèche asked us to bring in our own Doliprane (to give if the child develops a fever) and nasal saline drops(when she was a baby), the other crèche didn’t. In the spring, they asked us to bring in sunscreen and put it on my child before letting her outside to play.
What is provided: Crèche will provide diapers and all food and drink. If your child doesn't drink all their milk (formula) in the morning, for example, you can’t bring the bottle into crèche for them to give to your child. If you are breastfeeding, talk to them about bringing in milk.
Daily Schedule of the Crèche
Each crèche follows a schedule, you can ask what yours is. Roughly, for big kids it goes: arrivals, welcome song, morning play (outside time if it isn’t raining), lunch, nap, afternoon play, snack time (goûter), outside time. The caregivers rotate toys and music, and plan out different activities to do with the kids which is really nice for their development and stimulation. A baby-specific room will have meals at the same time as the big kids but if a baby is sleepy, they put them down for a nap at that moment-so there isn’t a set nap time for babies. The caregiver will get to know your baby and when they sleep, and not force them to sleep. At first, I was worried what would happen when my daughter wouldn’t nap, but they never pushed it. When my daughter was a toddler, and most kids were napping, she would be allowed to leave the nap room and go play quietly in the play room.
Write down the holidays the crèche is closed, on all of your calendars! Don’t do what I did; one year, I took my child to the crèche on November 11th and was so confused to find it closed. Schedules are usually emailed and/or posted in the entrance. Also, crèches have different schedules. Some crèches are open well into the summer. Some follow the school year and close at the end of June. One crèche we went to (public) closed for one week of every school vacances during the year. (The crèche did give the option of sending your child to a crèche that was open during vacances and accepted all the kids from crèches that closed).
Most obviously, tell the crèche about any allergies your child has. The crèche will post the weekly menu for lunch and goûter in the entrance for parents to see. You’ll notice the menu is divided into three groups, based on the eating ability of the children (from purees to solids). The menu is always balanced with things like a cheese course, seasonal produce (and these never repeat within a week), and a vegetarian day. There are indications for organic products, AOC/AOP products, and how the animals are raised. This is part of the French cultural philosophy that children are exposed to many foods, early, and those ingredients are high quality (this will continue into the cafeterias, cantines, in public schools).
The dedicated chef for the crèche prepares all the meals (and bottles for the babies), and some items are made in-house like the vinaigrette for the salads. The caregivers of the babies will put bibs on the babies and hold them or put them in high chairs and spoon feed them. The bigger kids will go to the dining room and sit at tables and wear bibs while a caregiver sits at the table and supervises the meal. When a child is ready to eat at the next level of meal (like from purées to pieces of food) the caregiver will transition them. They also teach the children how to drink out of open cups, hold utensils, and basic eating etiquette.
One crèche let us bring in birthday cake when our daughter was a big kid, as long as it was commercially made with a list of ingredients, to serve to the kids at goûter.
My daughter had a really good experience eating at crèche. She tried so many different foods and would actually eat foods at the crèche, that she wouldn’t normally eat at home. She even taught me the correct way to eat Petit Suisse after I was confused by her asking me to serve it on a plate!
Questions to ask a Crèche:
How many kids are there?
What if I am late?
How do I tell you if my child is sick and not coming in that day?
Do you accept kids with a low temperature?
What if I have another caregiver picking up?
Can I bring in a birthday cake for my child’s birthday?
Are you looking for recommendations for local crèche? Ask our members for help on our Members Forum.
Don’t speak French yet? We have been there! Check out our other blog post about French vocabulary for crèche! And stay tuned for our next post about crèches, the adaptation.
By the way, if you used crèche parentale, or assistante maternelle, we would love to have blog posts preparing our members, so consider writing a post!
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.