Activities Out of Class

Find out about the facilities available to you and your toddlers in France...

Out of Class Activities: Most mairies, schools, colleges and even tourist offices have lists of local clubs, associations and sports centres that offer children’s activities. There are also clubs and associations which distribute flyers at school gates during the first weeks of a new school year. Traditionally these clubs start their year in October and end the following June. During the month of September many offer free trial classes for sports or activities such as tennis, football, martial arts so that a child can try that activity before committing to the whole year. This means parents need not invest in all the clothing and equipment until October when a child is enrolled and the year's tariff paid. While the fees for these activities are generally inexpensive, it is always possible to arrange to pay the year's fee in instalments. Activities are normally held on Wednesdays and/or Saturdays.

Garderie: Each maternelle and primary school has the garderie service. This service provides a place where parents can leave their children under supervised care prior to school opening and after school closing times. It usually takes place within the school premises. The children are looked after by qualified carers (not teachers) often called dames de services. They are usually employed directly by the local mairie and may carry out other functions within the school. They look after the children who play, draw and do other activities while in the garderie. Working parents needing the garderie service must first register at the mairie prior to the start of the school term. The cost is based on household income and parents will be asked to produce salary slips and tax declaration form to determine the fee. The garderie usually opens at 07:30 and closes after school at 18:00.

Centre Aeré or Centre de Loisirs: These are organisations catering for children from age four. Working parents may put their children into a centre on Wednesdays and during school holidays. It is also possible to register a child to attend during school holidays even if the parent doesn't work. Some centres work on a ticket basis; a child may attend from time to time using the tickets. Other centres require parents to book ahead, so that appropriate staff (animatrices and animateurs) can be efficiently arranged.

Prior booking is becoming more and more common, but each centre - usually an independent association - has its own regulations. It is advisable (and almost obligatory) to enrol a child for holidays at least two weeks before end of term as some centres get fully booked very quickly. Parents will be asked for the usual paperwork to enrol the child which includes:

  • Proof of residence
  • Carnet de sante with vaccinations
  • (not always required) a medical certificate from a doctor, stating that the child is fit enough to go to the centre loisirs

Parents will have to complete the enrolment form including among other things: full contact details, information about any allergies the child has and information about any adults authorised to collect the child.

Children are divided by age groups and can participate in a wide variety of activities, with many outings and projects offered. Meals are available at the canteen.

Colonies de Vacances: These are summer holiday camps where children go away and stay for a week to three in a centre which specialises in outdoor activities or other themed activities such as art, theatre or music. The Colonies de Vacances usually cater to older children although many do take younger children, from age 4 to 18. There are many Colonies de Vacances throughout France, where it is a long-enjoyed tradition. Each centre is independently operated. Parents should telephone a centre directly at least two months before the holidays to receive enrolment forms.

Carnivals, Halloween and Christmas: Each year children have the opportunity to participate in a variety of festivities. February is the traditional start of Carnaval, during which there are costumed processions (defiles) in most towns and some villages and even at school.

Halloween has grown in popularity in France in recent years and households may be visited on the evening of 31 October by children in fancy dress, asking for sweets (bon bons).

Christmas in France brings many things for children to see and enjoy, from the lights and decorations, to temporary ice-skating rinks, Christmas villages and more.