French Preschools Aim To Please Toddlers, Moms
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
President Obama wants to make preschool available to every child in the United States. That's already the case in many European countries. In France, children start school at the age of three in what is called ecole maternelle. Eleanor Beardsley gives us a glimpse of how the system works from Paris, where her son has just finished his first year.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Like the day he came home and at the age of three and a half, recited his first poem.
MAXINE: (French language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Group: (Singing in French language)
BEARDSLEY: Maxim is learning a lot, but he is also taken care of in a stimulating and cozy environment. Every day he sits down to a hot lunch and has a nap in a tiny dormitory bed. It's all part of the process of preparing young children to be students and citizens, says Sylvia Bernard(ph), director of one of Paris's 800 ecole maternelle.
SYLVIA BERNARD: (Through translator) The essence of ecole maternelle isn't about learning math or how to read. It's about learning who we are and how to interact with other children and adults, and to respect other people.
BEARDSLEY: Chicago-native Barbara Legron(ph) says she has been able to work full-time with no worries since her daughter Natasha began attending ecole maternelle.
BARBARA LEGRON: I was very skeptical at first, to send her there for basically all day. But eventually as the year went on, I realized that she was learning so much. I mean, she was teaching me rhymes, French nursery rhymes that I should've been teaching her. So she's having a good time, she's learning and she's with other kids, so she's playing. And I can't really compete with that, even though I'm the mom.
BEARDSLEY: Experts say the focus on cognitive and emotional development at the same time is what makes a good preschool. Miho Taguma is an education specialist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. She says long term studies show that children who attend high quality preschool programs achieve more and have fewer problems later on.
MIHO TAGUMA: It's not only the parents and the child who benefit from the participation of preschool, but also that society as a whole. We consider public spending in early children is not a cost, but an investment in the future - important for economic development and ensuring well-being of the nation.
BEARDSLEY: In America, preschool is a patchwork system. A few states provide full public programs from age four, but many more provide nothing at all. Steve Barnett, a Rutgers University economist specializing in early education says poor families in America have some good options, but the middle class have been largely left on its own.
STEVE BARNETT: You have to make do with what you can afford, and most families find themselves in a position where if there're two parents working they need long hours of childcare. And to buy long hours at high quality, is very expensive and often unaffordable.
ALENE STRETT: (French language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Back in Paris, Maxim's class is visiting an art museum where the curator draws the children into a discussion over the colors and characters in a giant painting on the wall. Their teacher, Alene Strett, says three-year-olds are not too young to appreciate such an experience.
STRETT: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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