Saturday, May 23, 2015

nine years of blogging

My blog is older than my children!
Happy Ninth Birthday to my poor neglected blog!  Can't complain--the reason I'm not writing as regularly is because my energy flows into my family, my library job, my French tutoring, and volunteering.  (But I promise, I think about language acquisition and books and teaching all. the. time!  Just don't usually get around to writing about it.)

Occasionally I shower.


Best birthday present ever: being included on Love France, Learn French's list of top 100 sites! So since I have nothing else to add for now, go on over there and see Ryan's exhaustively researched and helpfully annotated list of websites, blogs, and other resources for students of this fun and beautiful and infuriating language.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

French storytime: le vert

After day after uncharacteristically rainy day here along Colorado's Front Range, our lawns are lush and weedy, our skies cloudy, and we are all rolling our eyes about the fact that for the second year in a row, it snowed on Mother's Day.  So in honor of our soggy springtime, I picked GREEN as the theme for my most recent library storytime.


After "Dans la forêt lointaine," our usual opening song (which happens to be about birds in the woods, so, green), we read and discussed a nonfiction board book about the seasons, Au fil des saisons.  Well, as much discussion as you can get from toddlers and preschoolers.  In other words, we named the seasons with help from the grown-ups; exclaimed about how pretty the tree in the book was; established that the apples were red, the leaves started out green but turned to red and orange and brown; and waved bye-bye to the baby birds as they left their nest.


To transition, we sang and danced to "Savez-vous planter les choux," a traditional song about planting cabbages with different parts of one's body.  Perfect for this time of year, and very much in keeping with the green theme.


And what else happens in the spring?  The caterpillars transform into butterflies, which means I had to read the French translation of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, prosaically titled La chenille qui fait des trous (the caterpillar that makes holes).  Everybody loves that little caterpillar!

And once you've spent time with a little green caterpillar, it just makes sense to move on to a little green mouse, so then we sang the vaguely psychodelic song "Une souris verte," in which the narrator catches said little green mouse by its tail, shows it to some gentlemen (who tell him to dip the mouse in oil and water in order to turn it into a hot snail--wtf, right?), and then tries to resettle it in cozy new homes (his drawer, his hat, and his--ew--underpants), each of which it objects to.  The song closes on the indelible and cringe-worthy image of the souris verte leaving trois petites crottes in the singer's shorts.


In other words, the children loooooooved it.  And not just the boys!

We concluded with another French translation of a familiar picture book, Ed Emberley's Go Away, Big Green Monster (thanks, Carol, for showing me the French version!).  This one is such a favorite for storytimes because the kiddos get to yell "Va-t-en!" (go away!) at the monster a lot.  (Go on, try it yourself!  Feels good, doesn't it?)


After our good-bye song ("Ainsi font font font"), we did a petit bricolage to close our green afternoon--a craft project that involved gluing torn pieces of brown and green construction paper onto a black-line drawing of a tree (copied onto card stock).  I also printed out some cute little clip art pictures related to trees--apple blossoms, apples, bird nests, owls, beehives, and squirrels.  (I am very fond of craft projects that require no artistic ability and very little prep on my part, especially since I do these storytimes on a volunteer basis!)

Gwyneth got tired of gluing before she finished her tree.  Oh well, she's three.
So, happy spring, all.  Hope you've got lots of vert where you are, too.

Friday, April 24, 2015

random Frenchy, teachy things

No time for full blog posts this month!  But at least I can make a bulleted list of some of my recent Frenchy and/or teachy thoughts….

gratuitous shot of G&G at the zoo

  • A mom I know who occasionally uses her non-native French with her teen daughters told me that she has discovered a way to cut down on the speed and intensity of their arguments: she announces things like curfew in French, and when the girls protest, they have to do so on French too!
  • Grandrabbit's Play, where Carol and I taught two French classes for kiddos, closed last month, so we won't be teaching there again.  :(
  • But I now am leading three separate weekly French tutoring sessions: one with a four-year-old, one with a group of siblings ages four through nine, and a duo of ten-year-old boys.  (See those toes down there?  These three very different classes are keeping me on them!)
  • The afore-mentioned siblings are already bilingual (from Spanish-speaking homes), and it's sooooo cool to observe how completely unfazed they are when I speak French to them for 30 minutes at a time.  No freaking out, no funny looks, no demands for translation.  It's like they know that they'll get it eventually, and in the meantime, they are understanding enough to have fun.
  • I saw the four-year-old at school; she was wearing a t-shirt with an owl on it, and when she saw me, she pointed to it and said "hibou!  hibou, Sarah!"
  • The mom of the other four-year-old told me excitedly that she can't wait until she and her daughter can converse in French.  Should I tell her that half an hour once a week won't lead to that anytime soon?
  • Griffin is really enjoying the following three resources in French: the magazine "Youpi! J'ai compris!" along with the free animated videos on nonfiction topics available on Brainpop and the geography games on Jeux de geographie
  • Gwyneth continues to assert that she doesn't know how to speak French whenever I ask her how to say something or other in French.
  • Gwyneth also continues to tell her nanny, "My daddy doesn't talk French or Spanish.  My mommy talks French and English.  I talk French, English, and Spanish."
  • Her pronunciation (in English) is gradually improving, which means that "Spanish" sounds like "panis" or "panish" now, instead of "penis."  (Oh, the shocked stares I intercepted when strangers heard my three-year-old announce, "I wike penis.  Mommy wike penis too.  Daddy don't wike penis.")
  • Gwyn and I attended a classmate's birthday party where we and one other family were the only anglophones there!  I ate spicy salsa, drank hibiscus cooler, and practiced my Spanish.
  • I've done three storytimes in French at the library this semester, and they're going well.  Themes: love (in February for valentines day), animals, and Paris. 
  • We've had two French playdates so far, each very different, and for the next one this weekend, I'm going to bring more games and puzzles and toys (and thus fewer French learning games).
  • Several private schools are offering French camps this summer, and I'm determined to send Griffin to one or two of them.  And there are Spanish camps in the area, too--including one at a farm!  I bet both kids would like those.
  • I need to make more time to blog and read the blogs of those I admire!  


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!

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

and

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 momes.net 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!