Kids might or might not attend nursery school, it really boils down to their parents’ choice. At the age of 4 or 5, though, compulsory education starts and the Swiss state is going to be responsible for the quality of your kid’s (or kids’) education. Primary school is the school for kids between 4 and 12 years of age. There are 167 schools in the Geneva Canton and school life is heavily regimented.

Let’s take a look at key French words and phrases that you have to understand at an absolute minimum to be able to guide your child through these important years:

un elève: a pupil, a student – that is: your child at school

P: I don’t really know why, but a grade is called a P. So first grade is called 1P, 2nd grade 2P, etc. It takes time to get used to it. In primary school children attend school from 1P to 8P.

l’écoleprimaire: primary school that comprises the first 8 years of compulsory education. Every two years children have a whole new set of class mates, that might be quite different to your country of origin. Sometimes this means that children have no friends in their new classes, while sometimes they have loads of friends from prior years. Classes are small, comprising 15-25 students in one class.

les cycles: primary school is cut up into two cycles – the first one is called le cycle élémentaire (1P à 4P) for children between 4 and 8, the second is called le cycle moyen (5P à 8P) for children between 8 and 12. The difference is that the first four grades are a very gentle introduction to school, with no school on Wednesdays and there is not a lot of homework given to complete. From grade 4 to 8 children start going to school on Wednesday mornings, they are given homework and school is becoming stricter with heavier workload.

Horaire du matin /horaire de l’après-midi : the schooltimetable. School starts at 8 am and finishes at 4 pm for children in Geneva. However, between 11.30 am and 1.30 pm is lunch break and unless your child can go to a daycare centre, it is your responsibility as a parent to provide lunch.

maladie de l’enfant: when your child is ill, you must call the school to notify them that your child cannot attend school. If you don’t do it, you are basically committing a crime and the school authorities are going to want you to specify the whereabouts of your child. It is taken very seriously, so please learn the sentence: “X estmalade” (your child’s name – completed by “is ill”).

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