Wednesday, June 01, 2011

French class at the maison--but just for Griffin (for now)

This post was written for inclusion in the May Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism.

When I began blogging about raising children with more than one language five years ago, I was still teaching French full-time at the university but growing frustrated by departmental politics, student apathy, and the lesson planning and grading that kept me up till midnight some evenings.  Recently married, my husband and I knew that we wanted children and wanted them to grow up with two languages, and I was already using exclusively French with my nephew and working as a private tutor for two preschool girls whose mom wanted them to learn French.

No surprise, then, that for years now I've thought about offering French classes for young children sometime down the road.  But when is "sometime down the road"?  I had thought it might be "sometime around right now"--my son Griffin is almost 3.5 years old, I'm working only part-time at the public library, I co-founded a successful French storytime that has given me more experience choosing materials and working with a group of young children, and Griffin and I have attended two six-week classes of French for preschoolers, which also provided me with lots of ideas and helped me refine what I would (and would not) do in such a class. 

In fact, Griffin has been asking me for "French class at the maison" once or twice a week, so we sit on the Tour Eiffel blanket and read, sing, draw, play games, and do worksheets, all in French.  (In other words, we basically do what we would do any other time, but call it French class!)  And for the past year, I've been writing articles for Multilingual Living about French immersion activities to do with young children.

My husband and I even had our basement finished last year with the goal of creating a playroom  to use eventually as a preschool classroom. (However, we had to contort the layout to accommodate the builder's strange decisions for plumbing, the furnace, and the water heater, and we ended up with a narrow, L-shaped playroom that won't be ideal for what I had in mind.)

And now I'm seven months pregnant and utterly exhausted.  We've put the French storytime on hiatus for the summer because even that feels like too much to take charge of these day.  (My co-founder is pregnant too!)  The thought of developing my own class from scratch, finding or making materials, recruiting students, keeping the house clean enough to invite strangers in (or finding another location to rent), and actually running a weekly or bi-weekly class for half a dozen Griffins while pregnant or while taking care of an infant makes me want to run to my bed and hide under the covers!

So while I'm feeling disappointed in myself, I also know that taking care of moi needs to be my top priority; otherwise nothing else will get taken care of either. 

In the meantime, I'll keep gathering ideas and materials, figuring out what works with Griffin and my nephew (and soon my niece, who is six months old and appears to enjoy my comptines and fingerplays), thinking about future storytimes, and having fun in "French class at the maison" with my delightful little boy while it's still just the two of us.

Have any of you tried private tutoring or offering classes to young children? What worked and what didn't?  (Here are three examples from two Spanish teachers, Jennifer and Annie, and a French tutor.)  What advice can you offer?  What would you want to see in such a class?  And for inspiration, check out my friend Dory's brand-new French immersion school/daycare for one to five-year-olds in Portland, Oregon, Atlas Academy, where I would send Griffin in a heartbeat if I could!


  1. Oh I so sympathise! I've had this idea too, even to the degree of offering a bilingual childminding service. Just that I'm not sure I'd have the energy for it. Maybe once baby is a bit older.

  2. I totally agree that it would be a gargantuan task for you to set up and run this sort of thing right now! Goodness I can remember how tiring it was being pregnant - I had never felt tiredness like it before.

    I am about to start taking Poppette to a saturday club in a neighbouring city. We will attend the preschool element of the 'La Farandole' saturday school which is called 'La Ronde des Bout'Chous'. You may find some inspiration for activities on their website

    I will do a post about the school when we have been in a couple of weeks time.

  3. P.s. I love the idea of your Eiffel Tower rug as a place to do and be all things French :)

  4. First, I must say good for you for knowing you need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else, let alone take on such an immense project!! It's so easy to fall into the trap of guilting ourselves into doing more than we should.
    I know the feeling of wanting to do more. I find myself itching to get back into a college classroom. But for now, I've decided that will have to wait until my kids (of which I so far only have one....) are in school. I enjoy being home with my son too much to go back to work even part time. I've been teaching at a Saturday school for a few years, but even that is not so convenient. If it were any day but Saturday.... For now, I get my teaching "fix" by speaking, singing, reading, and playing with Aleksander.
    I'm so impressed by the things you've accomplished. You do far more than simply speaking with your son - and nephew and niece. Even the resources you offer here on your blog are fantastic and demonstrate your commitment to this bilingual project. I wish you all the best in these last months of your pregnancy!

  5. Wow--thank you for your empathy, support, and praise, ladies!

    Cartside--"Once baby is a bit older...." Yes, that sounds familiar! Let me know if you ever embark on the bilingual daycare so I can pick your brain for ideas....

    Bonne Maman--What a gem of a resource for francophone/francophile families! Can't wait to hear more about it.

    Yes, when we're on the Eiffel Tower blanket, I feel very comfortable telling Griffin that he has to say everything in French there! (I rarely insist in other contexts.)

    German--Oh, I agree about working Saturdays. For the first time in three years I don't have to run my program at the library on Saturdays, and it's so much more pleasant to spend the weekend with my family! I also agree that spending quality, interactive, language-rich time with one's child completely counts as teaching.