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French Playgrounds: An Instruction Manual

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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