Ode à la halte

This one goes out to all the ladies at Léon's halte garderie. And to halte garderies in general.

Next Tuesday marks the last day that Léon and I will hop onto the bike, coast down the hill of Jolimont, along the canal, into morning traffic, up the ramp to Place Occitane and into the Espace Petite Enfance, where he spends about three mornings a week playing with his copains and copines, building, singing, sliding, and - crucially - learning how to be a functioning toddler in France. No small feat (I am still working on it.)

Halte garderies are essentially government run part-time daycares. For parents with flexible schedules who do not need a full-time daycare or a nanny, halte garderies welcome children from 3 months to 6 years for a limited amount of hours per week. They are run by trained professionals, with developed programs aimed at teaching little ones to flourish with other little ones.

Since Leon's 18 months, he has spent a few mornings a week making salt dough creations, singing adorable French comptines, racing around the playground, and taking field trips to the local library, theater, and last week a farm in Fronton. Léon loves his halte garderie, goes excitedly and happily, even asks to go on days off (Hmmmm.) He has made friends that he talks about animatedly, and sometimes disappointedly. If there are disagreements, fights over a toy, or just bad mornings, Léon tells me all about it at pick-up, and I can practically see the emotional intelligence wheels turning in his 3 year old head.

It has to be said: this stellar care is provided at a very small fee, based entirely on one's income bracket. We pay around two Euros per hour, a portion of which is reimbursed at tax time. I can barely wrap my American brain around it.

But my love for the halte garderie goes beyond the activities; it's the women who welcome the babies, the toddlers, the pre-preschoolers who are as different and unpredictable as the parents who bring them in who inspire my adoration. Many of the children are expatriate offspring, and the blend of French, English, Mandarin, German, Arabic, Spanish, Finnish, etc. must make for interesting communication. And yet the staff is friendly, warm, consistently present both physically and mentally. They are also firm and confident in their approach to discipline. They hold and hug the children who need it, and tell them with assurance, "Tu as le droit de ne pas être content, mais je ne te laisserai pas taper tes copains." You have the right to be upset, but I won't let you hit your friends. 

I have learned a great deal about the balance between firm and loving from these formidable teachers. Indeed, as an American, my notion of early education has not always gelled with the local one; French methods with little children sometimes seemed too stern or severe, with little appreciation for the science of childhood development. But what I have seen at the halte garderie is as close to the right model as I can imagine here. The children at the French halte garderie are inculcated with this maxim from the moment they arrive, "La liberté des uns s'arrête là où commence celle des autres." My freedom stops where yours starts. It's fine to laugh and jump for joy and create and express feelings both good and bad within limits.

I like the women at Léon's halte garderie, as people and as teachers, and am already preparing myself for some tears next Tuesday. Parenting in France has sometimes confused and frustrated me, beyond the normal confusion and frustration inherent in raising little children. La halte has been a veritable anchor.


Emilie said…
Just reading this post now - can't wait to talk to you about French schools. We are putting Romy in the crèche here. Excited for the parenting support for sure! I loved how they talked about 'collation' in our interview - as sacred time. xxxoooo

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