Guest blog post: by Alison Middleton, Cartes Cochons
French lessons for children at Children’s House Nursery in Southwell
I have been teaching French to nursery age children for about 15 years. Previously (and currently) I had taught primary or secondary aged children so my first lesson with sixteen 3-4 year olds – all sitting on chairs in a semicircle – was quite a daunting prospect. At first it felt like a long half hour but over the years I have developed a large range of fun, entertaining ways to engage very young children in listening and speaking and above all ENJOYING the French Language. Gradually as I became more confident, learnt or made up more songs and games, acquired a huge range of appropriate French books, stories, puppets and other visual aids half an hour was barely long enough.
Depending on how young they are when they join my French lessons at Children’s House each child takes it at their own pace and in their own way. Some children may sit watching and listening for a few weeks and probably wondering who on earth Alison is, with her puppets, her magic wand and tricks and the strange words and songs which they don’t fully understand.
A few children won’t actually join in and speak for quite a few sessions and then suddenly they will surprise me by counting to ten very clearly with a nice accent or join in singing a whole song. It was all ‘going in’ but took a while to come back out!! Some have to be coaxed to speak in ‘big voices’ (to encourage this I have recordable post cards which give instant voice feedback and of course they are intrigued to hear themselves singing a French song, counting to 10 or repeating a greeting).
Many people say to me “Oh they are like sponges – they pick up things so quickly at this age”. Indeed they are and some do but children learn, focus, engage in different ways and there are only so many times they will enjoy counting to ten.
So I have to try as many different ways as possible to introduce and practice listening and understanding and speaking skills.
As a result we do a lot of singing as I find they will sing happily in French, often before they will speak, as they don’t realise they are singing French. It is just LANGUAGE. Action songs like Tête, épaules, genoux, pieds (head, shoulders, knees and toes), Le Boogie Woogie (a French version of The Hokey Cokey), Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans le sac? (What’s in the bag?), Le fermier dans son pré (Farmer’s in the den) Le bonhomme de neige (The snowman) are simple songs, full of repetition and have actions and props to help with understanding and recall and, of course, are all fun ways of learning and speaking and practicing French vocabulary.
At the beginning of a session, after the Bonjour, Bonjour song I introduce a few questions and answers such as Comment ça va? How are you? and there are a range of answers they can choose, together with the action thumbs up (Ca va bien) or thumbs down (Ca va mal ) or hands wobbling (Comme ci, comme ça). Comment tu t’appelles? Should encourage Je m’appelle Amelia, je m’appelle John and when asked Quel âge as-tu? I encourage them to count on their fingers and tell me their age.
To introduce colours for example we might look at what colour clothes the children are wearing and so practice colours (and clothes) and then I have a lot of simple picture story books which reinforce the same vocabulary. They often want the same story week after week (just like in English) and with certain stories they join in with me, even trying the different voices.
If I had 1 Euro for every time I have read Lulu et le loup I would be a rich French teacher. The stories are REALLY simple with not too much language so if any parent feels like brushing up their French and buying some of these books to read at home I have included a booklist and websites which usually stock these books. Many of my stories are about animals, colours, birthdays, food, fruit, vegetables, parts of the body and so reinforce the vocabulary I introduce in the French session with the songs, activities, puppets, masks, flash cards, plastic food, pieces of clothing etc.
An all time favourite way of practising colours is the aforementioned magic wand (ma baguette magique) and my Magic Colouring book and having seen me ‘perform this magic’ for 3 or 4 years some of the Nursery assistants still haven’t sussed how it works and the children really do think I am magic!
Basically the children tell me colours in French which magically appear on the pages of the black and white colouring book when I wave my baguette magique. The book only understands French and when we try it in English or German the pictures just remain black and white. I will try anything to amuse and keep their interest and at the same time encouraging them to remember and then speak.The children tell me colours in French which magically appear on the pages of the black and white colouring book when I wave my baguette magique. The book only understands French and when we try it in English or German ... Click To Tweet
My puppets, toys animals and masks play a part in learning animal vocabulary – Claude le perroquet who can go ‘meuh’ like une vache (cow) and ‘coin coin’ like un canard (duck) but can’t do a parrot sound (the squeaker has long gone. Ma souris ( my mouse) – Fromage (cheese) who greets the children, encourages a reply and starts a ‘Tickle wave’ as part of the Pourquoi story and Lapin Magique who also has his own baguette magique and makes a tinkling sound before disappearing into his hat if his paw is pressed.
Motivating, entertaining, having fun, whilst encouraging, listening, understanding and speaking is what my French lessons at Children’s House Nursery & Pre-school are all about. I am happy if I succeed in some of those 6 goals every Thursday morning.
Alongside teaching French to KS1 and KS2 and nursery pupils I am also director of a company that produces language resources in French, Spanish, German, Italian and English. 10 or so years ago there were very few MFL (Modern Foreign Language) resources for primary aged children so I developed products I wanted to use with my classes. These include a huge range of posters in different sizes, song books and CD’s of songs using simple familiar tunes and useful, relevant words and phrases, rewards eg stickers, colouring book marks, certificates of merit, packs of colouring cards (Birthday, Thank you, Christmas), mini A6 Picture dictionaries, pupil word books to record their own vocabulary, and word mats.
These items and others are all available on my website www.cartescochons.com. If any parent would like to do a bit of French at home, or with older siblings do get in touch. Obviously I can deliver to Children’s House (so avoiding P&P) and you can order by phoning, emailing or making an online order.
Some of the books I use at Children’s House on a regular basis
The ***’s refer to roughly how popular the books are with the children although that also depends on how many times they have heard the stories!
Uki Series by Claudia Bielinsky There a lot of Uki books but I only have 2! **Le Striptease d’Uki, **Cache Cache à l’école European Schoolbooks
Lulu Books by A Sanders: ****Lulu et le loup European Schoolbooks £9.65 Little Linguist £10.99Pourquoi? European Schoolbooks£5.90 ***Toutes les couleurs European Schoolbooks £5.90 **Mon trésor European Schoolbooks £9.45, **Les habits du Lulu Little Linguist £11.99
Berthe Books Gwen Brookes ***Bonjour Berthe £3.99 Cartes Cochons , La semaine de Berthe £3.99 Cartes Cochons , Berthe fait une pizza £4.50 Cartes Cochons , Berthe fête Noël £4.50 Cartes Cochons – there are 12 books in French and two in Spanish. Gwen Brookes is a French teacher so the language is simple and relevant. Berthe is a witch, a granny with hairy legs who plays rugby and goes to discos!
**Petit poisson blanc – Guido van Genechten Little Linguist £11.99 Hardback, paperback £5.99
***Va t’en grand monster vert – Ed Emberley (Go away big, green Monster in English) European Schoolbooks £14.50 Little Linguist £13.75 Sturdy pages Hard Back
***Bonne nuit petit monster vert – Ed Emberley (Good night little green Monster in English version) European Schoolbooks £13.95 Little Linguist £12.99
***Qui conduit? Leo Timmers European Schoolbooks Sale Price £5.98 Hardback (RRP £11.95)
**Devine qui je suis? John Butler
**Pop mange de toutes le couleurs – Bisinski Sanders European Schoolbooks£5.90
**Les citrons ne sont pas rouges – Laura Vaccaro Seeger
***Chapeau – Dominique Maes
***Aboie Georges – Jules Feiffer European Schoolbooks £5.90
*Cher Zoo – Rod Cambell (Some children know it in English – Dear Zoo) Little Linguist £11.49
**La chenille qui fait des trous – Eric Carle (It is the much loved ‘The very Hungry caterpillar’ (Translated as ‘The caterpillar who makes holes’ European Schoolbooks £18.50 or Little Linguist £5.99 Grant and Cutler at Foyles Various editions and prices
*La Surprise de Handa – Eileen Browne English and French translation on the same page.
**Je m’habille et…je te croque – Bénédicte Guettier Little Linguist £5.85
Little Linguist Online specialist retailer of foreign language books and products www.little-linguist.co.uk
European Schoolbooks Leading wholesale distributor of European language books www.europeanschoolbooks.com
Grant and Cutler at Foyles Largest foreign language bookseller in the UK www.grantandcutler.com
Cartes Cochons Supplies a wide range of resources for young Modern Languages Learners