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.


  1. So exciting to read about your on-going adventures raising your kids bilingual. You are so dedicated and I'm taking notes for my own kids in the future! Thanks for sharing all these years, its been a blast to read your blogs.

    Now for recommendations I suggest having games and activities that fall in 3 rough categories.
    Group A:
    2-4 year olds
    a tea set, play food, doll house, duplo a few puzzles and some 3 step crafts (meaning pre-buy or make the templates ahead of time.)

    With the play food you can play "I spy" and describe the thing you are looking at--a round, red fruit might be an apple. A long yellow item could be a banana or corn on the cob and giving additional clues can help them whittle down.

    You can just play together with the doll house. Give the non-native parents a few prompts to help them interact with their kids :Where is the mom? What colors are the walls in the bedroom here?

    When they put together the puzzles, they'll need to talk to/interact with the kid. "Look, this piece goes in the corner...these are edge pieces....what picture are we making? What can go here?"

    Group B: 4-8 years old.
    More advanced puzzles and crafts--nothing fancy. Duplos/legos You should maybe make a few "book bingo" games for simple reading quizzes for kids who sit for a short story or who are reading. Simple questions that can be answered by the pictures. Obstacle courses.

    Call and response games like Simon Says or Mr. Fox What Time is It. Print out game board pieces and get jumbo dice so that kids can play a game on the floor using themselves as the pieces. Dress up clothes, making swords and shields out of cardboard. Scavenger Hunts!

    Group B: 7-10
    They can do many of the same activities as the 4-8. Puzzles, card games, board games that don't require reading, logic puzzles, simple riddles/word play with picture clues on a poster. Maybe making a simple snack following instructions. Scavenger hunts!

    1. Dear STF, thank you so much for these wonderful suggestions!

      I will definitely start bringing more toys to the playdates--perhaps a different set each time. The tea set and food should appeal to lots of little kids, and my daughter has a very cool modular dollhouse (three separate rooms that can be stacked on top of each other in various configurations), and even grown-ups seem drawn to it because it's a little different from what they're used to.

      Oooh, scavenger hunts, yes! Especially in the summer when we can't meet at the library and will be outside in a nearby park.

      And the floor games would work well. I once saw a "jeu de l'oie" designed in masking tape on a classroom floor.

      How about Twister?!

      All of your ideas sound good to me, even though it does require more prep and input and direction from me--I had hoped it would all come together organically, that the kids would play with each other right away, but when they're different ages and don't know each other, of course they're going to need to be nudged.

      Thanks again!

  2. Jealous of your success! My story-time that I do at a local educational play place (which costs $5 per child to attend) has not yielded a single francophone person.. but plenty of "My husband is from Algeria/Morocco/France," so I want my kid to learn the basics!"
    However, I've had great success with puppets. The children enjoy feeding plastic food which the puppet asks for by name, and if they feed him the wrong food, he spits it out and says "Non, merci!" I've even had luck getting the children to speak to the puppet in full sentences if I remind them he doesn't speak English!
    This might not be as effective for the older kids, unless you want to have them be the puppet for the younger ones.

    1. Don't you love those monolingual French puppets?! Having yours say "non merci" is a fun idea, and of course it could work with lots of themes. My puppet, Hubert, is a monster, so I could even ask the kids to feed him, say, plastic animals or dollhouse furniture, and it wouldn't seem out of character!

      It sounds to me that your French storytimes have been very successful if the previously monolingual kiddos can say complete sentences in French now!!!

      Thanks for your comments.