Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Legos make everything better

Wouldn't his would be a fun project for French playdates?
So my storytimes at the Lafayette Public Library are back, and so far successful at bringing in a fun mix of toddlers and preschoolers, Americans and native Francophones, people familiar with some of the stories and songs while others are eager to learn new ones (one maman even recorded me on her phone--"All we know are lullabies in French and I desperately need some new songs!").

I do want to get back in the habit of posting about storytimes in greater detail, but first I have more urgent--but related--business to cover:

French Playdates at the Library!

Gwyneth investigates a French trivia game called Voyage en France which features questions about culture, vocabulary, and grammar.  It's pretty dry, but Griffin enjoys it, especially the "which word doesn't belong?" cards.  I keep meaning to make new cards with easier questions that are more relevant to a seven-year-old boy and which address facts and ideas that he has already been exposed to, such as the areas we visited in France last year.
The Powers That Be gave me permission to offer a monthly playdate for older kids (ages 5-10) in addition to the storytime; it meets the fourth Sunday of the month from 2:00-4:00.  We have a nice medium-sized room with tables, a white board, computers, and even a sink and fridge.  

Ever since the Parenting Place--a nonprofit parenting support center in Boulder that offered classes, counseling, a food and diaper bank, and a lots of playgroups for various groups--closed, the French-speaking community in Boulder County has not had a regular, low-stress, drop-in playgroup that meets in a public place!

Ah, le bon vieux temps....

For nearly five years,  Griffin and I (and then Gwyneth, Griffin, and I) trekked to downtown Boulder every Monday morning so the kids could play on bikes, scooters, slides, sandbox, and other equipment in the enclosed courtyard, or engage with the dollhouse, puzzles, dinosaurs, cars, and craft supplies in the playroom, while anywhere between two and ten moms (and occasionally a dad) juggled juice boxes and breastfeeding babies and puzzle pieces and sun hats while sitting in chairs designed for tiny toddler tushies and sharing stories and advice in French.

I knew I couldn't recapture exactly that with my library playdate--the space is too different, many families have moved away, and the kiddos who were learning to walk and talk then are now in elementary school and have quite different needs and interests.

here's Griffin playing one of many games that can be conducted in any language at all--I need to bring this sort of thing to our playdates--checkers, Chinese checkers, Connect Four, Sorry….
But kids still need to play, and parents still need to commiserate and swap success stories, and I wanted a way to make this happen, regularly, in French (without having to clean my house, plan formal activities, or figure out how to include people I've never met).  Hence my new Meetup group, Boulder County Fun with French (join us!), whose calendar boasts a new playdate en français every month till the end of the year!

Our first playdate en français took place during the fifth day of a February snowstorm, and in the hours leading up to it I watched the list of oui RSVPs change to nons, so I was genuinely taken aback when three families showed up despite the weather!

I had made a pot of coffee just in case, and brought along four games in French, all of which require reading (or at least recognition of the alphabet) to play, which I thought would be okay, since the minimum age to attend was five.  

the French version of Spot It! is a great choice for encouraging kids to speak French, because it only requires saying individual words, not expressing complex ideas, and it's quick and fun
So I was genuinely taken aback a second time when it turned out that all the attendees were five and under!  (One toddler never even woke up from his car seat.)  But I was thrilled to see that all of them were from Francophone families.

this reading game has several different game boards and activities,  but it feels very educational, and I think the children were glad when it was over
Griffin and a five-year-old girl grudgingly played a French alphabet game until the little kids showed up, at which point I swept my games off the tables, fetched a tub of Legos, a tub of Duplos, and a tub of crayons, and printed a dozen French-themed coloring pages from the Internet (Petit Ours Brun, Kirikou, Babar…).  The kiddos happily fell upon the toys while we parents did our best to chat in French despite the near-constant attention and redirection that the children needed.  (At one point a French papa apologized for pulling someone else's toddler off a table, because he was afraid that Legos were about to be ingested.)

Ultimately, I can call it a successful event--just not quite what I was expecting (or hoping for).  So now with the second one coming up this weekend, what advice or suggestions do you have on providing kids (of all ages, apparently) with activities that will encourage them to speak French???  Please help!

etit Our
It didn't occur to me to bring this last time--a handmade French "Go Fish" game that Griffin illustrated--but I'll try it next time.  I also have a"Old Maid" and "Go Fish" from the Dollar Store; I just crossed out the words in English with a Sharpie and wrote in the French translations.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

soirée à la française--for the kids!

How much do I want my children to meet other young native French speakers?  Enough that I convince my husband to leave work early on a Friday afternoon to drive our children to Denver so that they can attend "Parents' Night Out" at the Alliance Française, a three-hour immersion experience, even though it cost twice as much as similar events locally (and didn't include dinner, drinks, or a even a bowl of popcorn during the movie)!

Griffin's face fell when we walked in and he saw kids docilely doing simple crafts while listening to French music--he didn't want us to leave him there with his little sister while we went out for a leisurely dinner.  He was expecting fun and excitement, and he got coloring pages.  Very expensive coloring pages.

So I worried about him all evening, hoping that this experience wouldn't turn him off French, hoping that the teachers would stay in French the entire time, hoping that he would make a friend, hoping that there was more on the agenda than stickers and a movie.

And, as usual, I didn't need to be such a worrywart.  Both kids loved it and want to go back!

According to the teacher, Griffin spoke French with her and mostly English with the other kids.  When they played games like "1,2,3, Soleil," he did use French with everyone.  He immediately connected with another seven-year-old boy, as did Gwyneth with the boy's younger sister ("Her shared her sac de couchage with me during the film!"), so I'm now trying to get in touch with that family in hopes that they don't live too far away and would be interested in getting the kids together, or at least attending our library storytimes and playdates.

And now I have a better idea of why this evening was so pricey:

I think Gwyneth used $25 of foam stickers, glitter stickers, and plastic jewels for the craft projects alone!

My favorite Valentine card this year--because it says "je t'aime"!

Friday, February 13, 2015

teaching tots and telling tales

So there we were, my friend Carol and I, in front of our brand new class--French for ages 0-5--relieved that five students signed up and the course was actually going to happen.  There we were with our contextualized lesson plans, props, puppets, songs, and stories.  And there in front of us, sprawled on the mat, clinging to a parent, snoozing, or nursing, were our distracted, drooling, diapered students.

Ages 0-5?  All of these kids are either 0 or 1!  We actually have seven-month-olds in our class!

So this population brings a fun challenge: how to teach an interactive language class to children who don't talk yet?!

(Here's a hint: that means no arts and crafts this semester.  Babies plus scissors and glue equals very unhappy parents.)

Fortunately, Carol and I both have years of experience engaging babies while speaking French, so we'll manage just fine.  Mais quelle surprise!

This week was bookended by French: our new class on Monday morning, my new storytime on Friday afternoon.  Or rather, my resurrected French storytime at the Lafayette Public Library.  After over a year's sabbatical, it was time to bring it back, warts and all.

(What warts?  Oh, like how it started with a group of us taking turns leading storytime, and ended up with me, just me, every time, and how I'm not a native speaker, and how my voice was not made for leading songs, and my kids didn't always cooperate, and attendance was spotty.  Those warts.)

Anyway, I'm making two major changes this time around: instead of a twice-a-month storytime, it will happen just once (the second Friday afternoon of the month at 4:00), but now I'm bringing in an additional activity for older kids.  We're going to try a playdate in French!  Kids ages 5-10 (and their grown-ups) can drop in on the fourth Sunday afternoon from 2:00-4:00 to play board games, do crafts, build Legos, and so forth.  

Selfishly, I'm thinking that this sort of event will really appeal to Griffin, but mostly I just want to create an environment for kids where their focus is on what they're playing or creating together, not the fact that their moms want them to speak French to each other.  This will hopefully make everyone less self-conscious.  And hopefully the parents will be happy to hang out and supervise while they sip coffee and chat.  In French!  (Cue Sarah's gleeful squeal.)

So many books...
So storytime today went remarkably well.  Despite not much publicity, nine families attended, and all of them understood well enough that the moms were able to sing along to some of our songs, they laughed  at the right places in the funny story, and I didn't have to translate or explain anything in English.  It is such a treat to work with kids who have already been exposed to French!   

Friday, February 06, 2015

Global Village Acad-envy

G&G with the "bonjour" bear outside the French classroom
An hour north of where I live, in the city where I used to teach, a new campus of an immersion charter school has opened.  This elementary school offers classes in Spanish, Mandarin, and French, and if I didn't so love my kids' Spanish immersion school already, I would be tempted to quit my job and spend my days driving back and forth to Fort Collins so that they could go to school in French!

Definitely not practical, non?  But I can still take them there on special occasions, like last week's French International Night:

In a crowded, stage-less cafeteria, Griff and Gwyn watched kids their ages sing songs they know and act out a story they've heard many times, all in French.  So valuable!

The cast of Cendrillon takes a bow
And then some college students acted out Le petit chaperon rouge, which is Gwyn's most favorite fairy tale ever.  (At least this week.)
Most fun, however, was the time afterwards for exploring the French-themed stations:

The kids played Le jeu de l'oie on a huge gameboard marked out in masking tape on the floor,

built castles out of cardboard,

and indulged in French cheese, croissants, and crêpes au Nutella et à la confiture.

(I indulged too, naturally!)
We could probably spread Nutella on a dirty sock full of Brussels sprouts and my children would eat it up. 
I also enjoyed peeking nosing around the classroom to see their materials and decorations in French:

Unsurprisingly, very similar to what I see in Griffin's classroom--but somehow so much cuter in French!
And while I know that my own children will not be attending Global Village Academy, I'm nonetheless thrilled the school exists 50 miles away, which means that 20+ kids every year will start learning French as kindergarteners; some of them will no doubt go on to study French at Colorado State, thus strengthening the foreign language program there, and perhaps some of them will drop into my library storytimes and playdates in French in the meantime!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

introducing…Boulder County Fun with French!

Carol (of A French American Life fame) and I have been asked to teach our immersion class at the toy shop in Boulder again this term, and I am restarting my library French storytimes and adding a French playdate for older kids as well!

Because attendance has always been our biggest challenge with the storytimes, we decided to take advantage of social media for promotional purposes.  We are very pleased to announce the birth of:

The Boulder County Fun with French Meetup Group


The Boulder County Fun with French Facebook Page!

And in case you're local and interested in our upcoming class, you can register here.

A bientôt !

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

neither here nor there, ici ou là, acquí o allí

Sometimes carving the time out to read and write about raising my children bilingually is easy, familiar, fun, like slipping a spoon into soft-serve ice cream, each new idea and discovery and resource and online kindred spirit a colorful sprinkle that I devour.

(My husband is continually astonished by the number of websites I can have open simultaneously--but I can't close a page until I'm done thinking about it!)

Other times, carving out time to blog is the equivalent of scraping sheets of frozen ice off my car in a Colorado winter, a millimeter at a time, until I decide it's not worth it and just walk wherever I was headed (or more likely, decide the errand wasn't that urgent and go inside and make a new cup of tea).

my favorite gift to give this year--I love this book as much as my kids do!
You'd think that I'd know by now that for me, the month before Christmas (and several weeks afterwards) tends to be the latter.  Decorating, buying and wrapping and shipping presents for everyone, designing and sending cards, coaching the children through their handmade gifts, making my own handmade gifts, figuring out and following through on tips for those who have earned them and end-of-year charity donations, digging all the special once-a-year recipes and awkward appliances out of storage, plus all the shopping, holiday-party-and-church-service-attending, entertaining, traveling, hosting, and the packing and/or extra cleaning that traveling and hosting entails, not to mention working my paid and volunteer jobs, of course, plus the feeding, bathing, dressing-in-clean-clothes, cajoling-to-do-homework-and-practice-music, breaking-up-fights-between-siblings, scrubbing-sharpie-stains-off-the-dining-table, lulling-to-sleep that has happen, every single day, with small children….

small, beautiful children, to be sure
…all of which, fortunately, brings with it lovely quiet moments with family in front of a glowing tree decorated with memories, boisterous joy from happy kids on vacation, connecting with friends and relatives far away (I always leave their holiday cards up till spring break), cathartic sob sessions about friends and family who are gone, and a very good excuse to eat mountains of cookies and rivers of melted cheese.
Christmas Eve tradition inspired by my year in the Alps: raclette (melty cheese grilled tableside and poured over potatoes and ham)
Thus, blogging doesn't happen very often for me in December!

And it probably won't in January, not just yet, because I've fallen so far behind at work, and I still have a pile of Christmas New Year's cards to write and mail, plus thank-you notes, plus a massive pile of decorations and ornaments and wrapping supplies in the basement to organize and hide for the next eleven months, but right now, this very afternoon, I have carved out 1.5 hours to check in and tell you what blogworthy stuff is on my mind.

Like the successful completion of Carol's and my first French class for kids at Grandrabbit's, followed by our being hired for a new class this semester, accompanied by the worry that the manager isn't doing enough to publicize it.

Bricolage (arts and crafts) in French class!  
And trying to rework my weekly lesson with a five-year-old private tutoring client, whose dad is French, whom I want to challenge more while still keeping our time together fun for her.

Or how about the new games I've discovered or developed to enhance Griffin's and Gwyneth's French at home, the fantastic books we've been reading together, but also my reluctance to push Griffin to read and write more in French at home (he gets cranky about it after 7.5 hours in school every day).

And, oh my goodness, speaking of school, how freaking awesome it is that my kids are learning Spanish--really understanding it, even three-year-old Gwyneth with 11 hours of preschool a week.  Griffin is even writing one- and two-page narratives in the past tense, sprinkled with transition words, dialogue, and clear explanations of why the event he's describing was ¡fantastico!

And how freaking scared I am that the Spanish they and their friends are immersed every weekday in will supplant their French.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Fruit and cookies for Santa on the potty chair.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Noël now!

Speaking French while celebrating Christmas with your kids?  You'll need these sites!

Your kiddos' jaws will drop when they get a personalized video message from this jolly old elf!
Writing letters to Santa Claus is so old-fashioned, don't you think?

Well, no.  Actually, I love snail mail, but since my children love their screen time, I'm thrilled to discover this website, "Père Noël Portable," which will send a personalized video message (for free) to your child in French or in English!

You input information about the child (age, hair color, eye color), what behavior issues you wanted her to work on this year (selecting from drop-down menus of everything from "obeying your preschool teacher" to "obeying your stepmother" to "eating all your vegetables" to "going to bed on time" and so forth--and these are just the toddler options, because there are different choices for different ages), what she wants for Christmas, and so on. You can also include photos and indicate what they represent--a trip you took this year, a new arrival in the family, and so forth.

The website then puts together a video of a jolly, gentle Santa greeting your child and researching her in his "grimoire" (complete with the photos you uploaded). Santa compliments the child on her good behavior (or chastises her for not being a good girl, if you select that option) and generally says lots of Santa-riffic things.

The versions of the video letter for older children are longer and begin with a tour through an area of Santa's Workshop at the North Pole.

sample virtual Christmas card in French from Domedaire
Then, your child can write back to Santa by sending him a free e-card in French via Dromedaire!

une lettre au Père Noël
Or, challenge your 21st century child to write and mail a real letter to Santa with his adorable free printable template!  The layout is cute and the structure makes it easy to fill out--the kid checks off how well she has been behaving (from "très très sage" to "presque sage"), draws pictures of two presents she's hoping for, and even offers gift suggestions for loved ones.
Next, here's a fun resource for those of you who celebrate Christmas and speak French with your children: an online advent calendar with a song for each day! The sound quality isn't great--they are recordings from children's concerts, probably in school auditoriums--but the lyrics appear onscreen along with simple animations. And since it's a site from Québec, it also includes a song about the national dish, la tourtière!

Via that same site, you can also visit the Train de Noël, which features more songs by school choirs with onscreen lyrics and very simple animations.  Most are in French, with some bilingual ("Lumières de Noêl") and even some French translations of traditional English songs ("Promenade en traineau," for example, which we know as "Sleigh Ride").

You'd prefer to hear adults singing carols professionally?  Okay, then head over to La neige folle, a Christmas-season-only online francophone radio station (November 20-January 31), featuring holiday songs from the past 100 years.

(I meant to poke around YouTube to find some existing French holiday playlists and some clips of French children singing and celebrating Christmas, but that'll have to wait for another day!  Perhaps in the meantime someone will share their YouTube or other online resources in French about the holidays?)

The always-reliable offers a variety of high-quality Christmassy kids' activities and printables in French--recipes, crafts, songs, stories (including "Le Père Noël est en Prison"!) and other activities in French--while their parents can read the holiday activity suggestions at Vos questions des parents.  (After reading several of the stories to my kids, however, I should add that I'm underwhelmed.   But they're free!)

(I like to print out worksheets and coloring pages like this crossword puzzle and this word search and this roll-the-die coloring page, add a patterned cardstock cover, and make them into a personalized workbook for Griffin.  Our local copy shop can add a plastic spiral binding to keep them together, but staples or three-prong folders work well enough too.)

I'll close here for now--my kiddos are asleep, so I will seize the moment to wrap their presents without risk of interruption--but promise to keep adding relevant links to my "Noël pour enfants" page on Pinterest!  And would you please share your favorite French holiday resources and books in the comments below?

lots of fun French Christmas websites, in case I get more ambitious
Merry merry from Colorado!

Monday, December 01, 2014

myth-ing the point

For the last Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival of 2014, Annabelle, the host, challenged us to explode the myths that many people hold about bilinguals--are we truly confused?  Are our kids condemned to a childhood of code switching and strange looks from their classmates?  Will our efforts isolate us from our monolingual in-laws?



But not really.  (So if any of those things do happen, don't blame the second language!)

Here's the best list I've encountered which enumerates and quickly dispels common myths about bilingualism, courtesy Prof. François Grosjean, author, linguist, parent, and all-around expert in this area: Myths About Bilingualism.

For today, I'd like to address the intersection of these two myths: "bilingual children experience language delays" and "being bilingual requires equal fluency in both languages."

Once upon a time, I was a French teacher, an aunt, and a part-time babysitter.  My sister-in-law had suggested that since I knew French, I might as well speak French to my nephew, Carl, while taking care of him one afternoon a week.  So I made the effort to learn vocabulary that had never before appeared in my French conversation or reading ("bouncy chair," "put the pumped milk into the bottle warmer," "what in the world is that foul odor?", "Can't I just cut the onesie off him after a diaper blow-out?") and spent many happy hours reading and singing and taking walks with Carl, all in French.

Tatie and Carl, 2006
And, by golly, at 18 months that brilliant baby was regularly making two- and three-word utterances in French. (I'm not exaggerating even a little bit--I took careful notes each time I was with him, which led to his first four-word sentence at 18 months: "Tatie écrit stylo livre"--Auntie is writing with a pen in her book!)

Clearly, being exposed to two languages from infancy didn't delay his language acquisition (nor did it impede his English ability).

Now, let's take a look at the other end of the spectrum: my daughter Gwyneth.  She's almost three and a half, and her speech in English is often nearly as unintelligible as her French.  

She has a lot to say, mind you, but chances are a stranger would have trouble deciphering it, what with the consonants she mispronounces ("ewewewatow" for "elevator") or drops altogether ("et" for "yet"), the sounds she transposes ("smoothie" becomes "soomie"), her occasional French words ("I a loup and my brover a loup"), her occasional missing words ("I no" which means "I don't know"), her even-less-frequent Spanish words (mostly numbers and bits of songs that she picks up at her Spanish immersion preschool) and the family-specific ideas she tends to reference (such as zerberts, sleep-unders, and tuck-tucks).

Gwyneth, 2014
Thus, when Gwyneth announces, "My wittle eye sawt wit wew!", we know (but no one else does) that she wants to play I Spy.  (She's heard her brother say "I spy with my little eye something that starts with B" and "I spy with my little eye something that is red," so she makes a valiant attempt to express "I spy with my little eye something that is vert," green.) 

See, we know what she means because we speak English, French, and Gwynese.  My wittle eye sawt wit wew.** (Doesn't that just make you want to give her a big squeezey hug?!  So cute.)

Given the fact that she was barely talking at 18 months, and not saying much as a two-year-old, I might characterize Gwyneth's speech as "delayed" (or perhaps just "confusing"), but there's no reason to attribute it to her hearing two languages from birth.  And for the record, both her pediatrician and her preschool teacher have reassured me that her language development is age appropriate, if perhaps on the low end of normal, and she did have an auditory test earlier this year just to make sure that she's hearing her consonants correctly.

Griffin's linguistic development, on the other hand, fell somewhere in between his sister and his cousin--neither astonishingly early nor a little late.  Again, I don't think that had anything to do with the languages he was hearing at home.

I did hear a lot of code-switching from Griffin as a toddler, though, particularly with nouns.  His sentences usually consisted of pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions in English, plus nouns in French.  I'm sure that this is because the majority of books he knew were in French, and we encounter words in books--volcano, hedgehog, leprechaun--that tend not to appear regularly in conversation.

(Code-switching, by the way, is neither a myth nor improper speech, but a normal stage in language development.  It doesn't occur because kids are confused, but rather because some words are easier to access in a certain language and those are the ones that come out first.  Later on, code-switching can be a deliberate choice when a person wants to use a word or phrase in the other language for emphasis, humor, or to identify herself as a member of a group.)

Griffin, 2012
Both of my children understand French as well as English, at least in the situations I've observed, although they both have a clear preference for English.  When prompted, Griffin will speak French, but haltingly.  (Unless we are discussing a book we're reading together, and then his French feels more organic, probably because the phrases and ideas from the story are surrounding us.)  As for Gwyneth, she usually refuses to do anything we ask her to do, so I've stopped encouraging her to reply to me in French, saving my requests for important things like brushing teeth and wearing pants.  (Hey, maybe I should start telling her she has to speak English from now on!  She would almost certain embrace the language just for the sake of rebelling against me.)  

(By the way, the thought of Gwyneth the teenager terrifies me.)

So I can't say that Griff and Gwyn are bilingual, right?  Despite my efforts and their passive understanding of French, they simply are not as fluent in their second language.  In fact, I often suspect that my own French isn't strong enough to be considered fluent--talking on the phone can reduce me to caveman-like stammers, I miss a lot in movies when the characters are speaking fast, using slang, or not facing the camera, I can't engage in political discussions,  some of the literature I studied in grad school reduced me to tears, and my accent immediately betrays me as a Anglophone.

I learned not to dwell on these perceived inadequacies, however, when I started speaking exclusively in French to my infant son.  I didn't want to feel self-conscious, so I kept reminding myself that even if my kids ended up speaking a second language imperfectly, that would still be much better than only speaking one language, period.

G&G, 2014
However, it appears that Dr. Grosjean would disagree, would insist that the fact that my kids and I are not equally fluent in both languages does not detract from our bilingualism:

"Some bilinguals are dominant in one language, others do not know how to read and write in one of their languages, others have only passive knowledge of a language and, finally, a very small minority, have equal and perfect fluency in their languages.  What is important to keep in mind is that bilinguals are very diverse, as are monolinguals."

In other words, non-native speakers like me can achieve fluency in our second languages, and we can proudly call ourselves--and our children--bilinguals.

ma famille, 2011
*Note to Griffin and/or Gwyneth: "Condemned to a Childhood of Code Switching" would make a great title for your memoirs one day.

**Whereas an autobiography called "My Wittle Eye Sawt Wit Wew" probably wouldn't make the bestseller lists.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Griffin's no longer a toddler, Sarah!

And your second child, who didn't even exist when the previous header photo was taken, is no longer a toddler either, for that matter.

Time to try out a new blog header using a more recent photo that features a girl this time!

Friday, October 24, 2014

the very hungry Gwyneth

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you a report of Gwyneth's Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed birthday party!  (Since it's based on a classic children's book, this post is at least tangentially related to my blog theme, right?)
Party appetizer: grape caterpillar skewers
This is not a new concept, of course: just do a search for Very Hungry Caterpillar Party on Pinterest and an overwhelming number of ideas for decorations, foods, and favors will assault you with the ferocity of a thousand swirling Martha Stewarts sculpting a butterfly piñata out of twelve years' worth of carefully-stored-in-archival-quality-lignan-free-paper belly button lint, hand-dyed in a rainbow of hues from organic beet peelings, kale leaves, and harvested-under-a-blue-moon fairy wings.

Me, I'm not crafty like that.

Therefore, we rented a shelter at a local city park so we wouldn't have to do much in terms of decorations, and I put my energy into food, activities, and the favors.

(Mmmm...caterpillar food!)

Rather than staying scrupulously faithful to the book --I didn't really want to prepare one apple, two strawberries, three plums and so forth all the way through a slice of pizza, a sausage, and a cupcake--I started with several book-inspired salads and appetizers.

"In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf."
Rather than serving the fruits separately, I just threw them into a salad.  
(For the dressing, I infused fresh ginger into a simple syrup and added lots of fresh mint.) 
Butterfly Pasta Salad--featuring farfalle pasta
(shaped like butterflies!)
"Then he ate through one nice green leaf,
and he felt much better."
Sandwich supplies
Dessert was easy: Caterpillar Cakes!

(store-bought cupcakes spread with store-bought icing
into which I mixed green and yellow food coloring)
As for the decor, I ran out of time to do what I really wanted (making yard decorations out of green paper plates stapled to chopsticks and inserted in the ground at appropriate lengths to look like the iconic famished creepy-crawly).  But since the party was outside, decorations weren't even necessary.

We did set the atmosphere with some insect-inspired children's music:

silly, catchy songs about bugs--educational, but the kids don't even realize they're learning!
And we did a craft: a "sticky table," using adhesive contact paper (backing removed) taped to a table. I provided little crafty doodads, like paper leaves, sequins, plastic grass from sushi plates, pompoms, pipe cleaners, and colorful caps from squeezy baby food pouches, and the party-goers made 3D scenes that stuck to the paper--even on a windy Colorado day!

la chenille la plus longue de Lafayette !
The "sticky table" scenes then became a fun background for blowing out candles
 and serving the cupcakes.
la chasse aux papillons
Our main activity (besides eating, of course, and running around like small wild beasts) was a butterfly hunt, which involved donning the antennas that Griffin had helped prepare,

pompoms, pipe cleaners, and plastic headbands from the dollar store
grabbing some butterfly nets (also courtesy our local $1 establishment), and running after tissue-paper-and-pipe-cleaner butterflies

take a small rectangle of tissue paper,
pinch the center together,
and wrap a piece of pipe cleaner around it
so that the antennas are sticking up
that another (tall) parent threw into the air on this very windy day.  

Gwyneth's fête was magical!  (Other than the fact that the birthday girl participated in almost nothing except the eating of the cake.  Oh well--she was only turning two.)

I also put a ridiculous amount of time and energy into creating the favors: spiral-bound workbooks about caterpillars.  With the help of Google and Pinterest, I printed out coloring pages, mazes, seek-and-finds, easy crossword puzzles, poems about bugs, and other activity sheets, then had them copied and bound.

(I hate all that plastic crap and candy that guests typically receive in the 
ubiquitous child's birthday party favor bags.)
Martha Stewart, eat your heart out!  I'll take a creative and (semi) educational kid's party with store-bought cupcakes any day.  (Although, apparently, it will take me 15 months to finish blogging about it.)