French Playgrounds: An Instruction Manual

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Most days, we end up at the Jardin des Plantes, one of the nicest city park downtown Nantes. Mark enjoys the playground and we can sit down and relax for a little while.

And this is where I realized the huge differences between French playgrounds and Canadian playgrounds. In both cases, the actors are the same: somewhat tired parents and kids full of energy. But then, the scenario isn’t exactly the same…

In Canada, each suburb has several small playgrounds, i.e. new and safe age-appropriate government-approved plastic structures with plenty of grass where kids can run. In France, “playgrounds” are often either art projects, either tiny 10 x 10 square meters “parks” with some dog poop and left-over beer cans. At the Jardin des Plantes, the grass is completely off-limit and the quirky art is not to be touched. Amazingly, French kids are used to it and don’t even try to walk on the (very inviting) grass.

Canadian parents tend to take kids to the playground after a very early dinner, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. If not, they bring healthy nut-free, MSG-free, and allergen-free snacks. Like, celery sticks with fake peanut butter—kids being kids, the spread will be licked and the celery stick remains uneaten. In France, in the afternoon, kids are fed le goûter, a pre-dinner snack—pain au chocolat, croissant or kid-friendly cookies with chocolate and sticky jam are often provided. Allergies aren’t as common here and nutrition rules are looser. Besides, most of the time, kids are too busy playing to eat their snacks, so parents help themselves to a cookie, a piece of pain aux raisins, some brioche with sugar on top (we don’t eat ALL the sugar, we’re not monsters!).

In Canada, playground is “family time”, so parents keep a very close eye on their kids and “help” them play. French parents, on the other side, sit on a bench and just say: “allez, va jouer!” They rarely interfer with playground drama and consider kids will be just fine. At the Jardin des Plantes, parents chat, have a cigarette, a coffee, read the newspaper and once in a while, they make sure their kid is still around. Amazingly, it works out just fine. Mark find new friends every day and kids play together well. because they teach other rules, like sharing or being careful with little ones. In Canada, Mark is clingy and tries to drag me to the slide or whatever part of the play structure he enjoys. In France, he doesn’t even want me around, he wants to go with his friends and he only stops by the bench if he wants to show me a new cool trick or needs some water.

I’m definitely a French parent. I can’t help it: this is how I was raised and frankly, I think I suck when I try to play the “Canadian mother” role. It’s not natural to me. Too many rules, too much hands-on parenting, too much pressure, too much focus on kids, too much energy spent being scared of just about everything. I believe in socializing kids (peer pressure can be an awesome positive tool to reinforce rules), in building a healthy and open relationship with Mark and yes, it does involve saying “no”, setting limits and accepting I’m not perfect. Sorry, I forgot to take water! “We can go to the store,” Mark suggests. Problem? Solution!

Bottom line is, regardless of parenting style, kids on both side of the Atlantic Ocean turn out just fine!

Main door of the Jardin des Plantes

Main door of the Jardin des Plantes

Just a lost chicken...

Just a lost chicken…

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Mark and my mum

Mark and my mum

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Quirky art by Claude Ponti

Do NOT walk on the grass. Like, ever.

Do NOT walk on the grass. Like, ever.

I don't think he was even to step on that...

I don’t think he was even to step on that…

Mark at the playground

Mark at the playground

Mark at the playground

Mark at the playground

Mark at the playground

Mark at the playground

French parents on benches while kids play

French parents on benches while kids play

The mini swimming pool

The mini swimming pool

Parents on benches, kids playing independently

Parents on benches, kids playing independently

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

5 Comments

  1. I agree with you and I think I would be more into the French style of parenting. There is way too much pressure here!
    Though I recently spent time with my Scottish in-laws, and my MIL babysits my niece. She is very hands-on and was a stay at home mum with her sons. I think my other half expects one of us to do the same :O

    • I quickly realized that being a stay-at-home mum wasn’t for me. I like a good compromise, a flexible work schedule and spending some time with Mark. I admire stay-at-home parents but honestly… I found most of our days were spent trying to do something and it was frustrating for both Mark and I. You need a really good routine and a support network for that otherwise it’s isolating too :-/

      • Yes I can’t imagine. I worked as a nanny for a bit but it’s just not for me…
        She never went back to work but had a good network of friends and volunteered etc. Plus she enjoys cleaning and stuff (not my case!) haha

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