Sunday, January 24, 2010

a playgroup that's not "effrayant"!

(effrayant = scary)

For nearly two years now, I have been aware of a French playgroup in Boulder (city just west of here), but it took me nearly one year and three-quarters to work up the courage to take Griffin.

Why? Because of stories like this, where an American takes her baby to a playgroup with French moms and discovers that she's the only one who actually nurses her child, where in fact some of the moms leave their kids at home with the nanny so that they can discuss postpartum weight loss without interruption while they smoke cigarettes and wear skirts and high heels! (Just for contrast: most of us in my moms' group show up in slouchy clothes, eat cookies, nurse without bothering with a hooter hider, and delight in the fact that our kids clearly like hanging out with each other.)

Or because a lot of the bloggers I read seem to report having trouble keeping a second-language playgroup alive--in fact, I can't remember having read any success stories.

Or because I wouldn't know a soul there.

Or because it's hard enough to get out of the house with a toddler and all of his gear, make the 25-minute-drive to the facility in Boulder hosting the group, arrive on time, stay long enough to make it worthwhile, and get home in time to feed toddler and me before grandparent arrives to babysit while I go to work. (Why does it have to be on Monday mornings?!)

Anyway, I finally stopped making excuses in December and started taking Griffin. Perhaps because it's hosted by a nonprofit parenting center and has been in existence for years, it seems to avoid a lot of the problems that can plague newer groups or ones that meet at different people's homes.

Most of what I worried about is not an issue--Griffin loves the train table and art supplies and toys there--he is neither the oldest nor the youngest child--I am not the only non-native French speaker--the moms are not anti-breastfeeding--nor do they look like fashion models.

Everyone, in fact, is friendly and open and funny and willing to respond to my endless questions about how they're keeping French alive for their kids in northern Colorado and "how do you say this in French?" and "What books do you read to him?" and "How do you manage to take your whole family to France several times a year when I can barely drag my cookies to Boulder once a week?"

And it's SO incredibly wonderful to speak French with grown-ups again, to have actual conversations that don't involve, say, naming colors and shapes or ordering a toddler to pick his pretzels up off the floor.

(Plus, it was very cool when I introduced Griffin to the group and one of the parents said, "Your son's name is Griffin? Do you have a blog? I've been reading about him!")

What have your experiences with language-centric playgroups been? What works for you? Any advice? (I would love, at some point, to have a French playgroup on my side of the county.)


  1. I tried to get into a playgroup through the local German club for nearly a year. I finally got the chance to go to one once and it was good. The problem for me at that time was that I had 3 little children, plus older ones I was trying to homeschool, and I lived pretty far away from the other people in the group (about 40 minutes). They would do things like go to the pool, which really wasn't possible for me with my 3-to-1 ratio. Anyway, I don't even belong to the German group anymore because I got sick of the issues with trying to stay involved. Let's just say that communication was not their strong point. I'm glad you are having a good experience!

  2. Playgroups have been hit or miss for us, too, and frankly, probably more miss than hit....

    On the bright side, friendships have grown out of our involvement, so even if the groups don't do much these days, we've made friends with a couple of the participants and frequently meet privately.

    If you start up your own thing, I'd recommend you figure out what your goals are for this group. Like how much French do you want the kids to be able to speak? Is it more a social event for parents and the kids are left to play by themselves (which means they'll likely switch to English) or are the adults going to make sure the kids will at least try to speak French to each other? Can your group accommodate kids who don't understand any French at all when they join, i.e. kids whose parents may want them to learn French through a playgroup? What about the adults - will they speak French as well? What if a non-French speaking parent wants to take their child (someone in your situation for example, and mine, too)? What about kids of very different ages?

    It seems to me that where we went wrong was to just take in everyone who was interested, without ever thinking about what that meant for group activities. As a result, we have people who are only interested in social events for the adults, people who have given up speaking the minority language to their children, and also a big divide between people who are home with their kids and have time in the daytime and others who work full-time and only have time on weekends.

    This is not meant to discourage you, but I guess just some food for thought. I hope it works out for you, 'cause having other kids around who speak French will become more important for Griffin (and maybe you too) as he gets older.

    Good luck! And happy birthdday to Griffin - may the Terrible Twos be bearable :)

  3. Hi Sarah! I think that mommy who reads your blog was me! I came across your blog while I was pregnant and when I saw you were local I thought, I must meet this woman! But I never contacted you and once my baby was born things were a little crazy :-) and I think you took a break from the blog for a while. Anyway, glad I finally met you and wanted to let you know you are inspiring me to step up my own efforts. Lately I feel like all I say is "Tu veux que je change ta couche?" or "lolo?" LOL! Hope to see you tomorrow.

  4. Sarah! I thought I recognized your and your son's name today - I haven't been on your blog in a long time, but there aren't too many Griffins out there, and I knew there was a blogger from Lafayette.

    I didn't put it all together until after I got home this afternoon. How funny though- C'est un petit monde francophone ici dans le Colorado, n'est-ce pas?

    Hope to see you soon - I'm definitely willing to meet places other than PP - esp. when the weather is nicer and we can meet at parks and do more outdoors vocab (meaning I might drag along a dictionary too!)

    A plus
    Jessica P

    and thanks for your blog - It helped me start speaking French to Avery. I initially wasn't doing so and started to after attending the playgroup and seeking other non-native bilingual mommas speaking to their kiddos. C'est vraiment difficile!

  5. @Jeanne--You need a magic fairy godmother to organize a German playgroup for you nearby, chauffeur you there, provide free quality child care for the other kids in your family while you attend, (maybe a Swedish playgroup and a Spanish playgroup for the others?), and maybe send you home with home-cooked German meals to reinforce the language practice! Dare to dream, huh?

    @Smashedpea--Those are all great questions. It seems like there are a lot of factors to consider to make a playgroup work on all the necessary levels. And I already have heard from some families who don't speak French but would like their kids to attend a playgroup. But to me, that sounds more like they want a free French class for their kids, because I don't think they'd pick up much unless there was some structure and/or instruction. Lots of food for thought here--thanks!

    @Melissa & Jessica--I'm so glad that we met! It's flattering to know that y'all were reading my blog before we all started attending the French playgroup in Boulder (intermittantly, admittedly). Thank you both for saying that this blog has been helpful. And yes, I was on hiatus from the blog for quite a while last year (not on purpose--it just happened) and then took my email address off of my blog's sidebar because I had stopped checking that account.

    Let's definitely think about ways to get our "gosses" together in addition to the Monday morning group. I'll send an email soon!