Learning French in and Around the Garden: Part One

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It is with pleasure that I introduce a new regular contributor: Sarah Dodson-Knight. Many of you know Sarah from her blog Bringing up Baby Bilingual and from her insightful columns in Multilingual Living Magazine where she shared her experiences teaching her nephew French and preparing to raise her own newborn in non-native French!  Welcome to Multilingual Living, Sarah!  We are delighted to have you.

Here begins Sarah’s 4-part summer series which both native and non-native families can enjoy. Let us know what you think!


Learning French in and Around the Garden


Qu’est-ce que tu as planté aujourd’hui?

(What did you plant today?)


My two-year-old son:

Vers de terre!


In celebration of summertime and its bounty, let’s play and learn in the jardin!

This is the first of a series of posts for Multilingual Living about using French with children via music, art, literacy, and kinesthetic activities.  In July and August, we’ll explore some activities centered on plants, growing, and spending time outside which you can use to introduce new words and concepts and then practice them in a rich and meaningful context.

Part I (Music, Rhythm, and Rhyme) is below; parts II through IV will follow in July and August.

Part One: Music, Rhythm, and Rhyme

The French folk song for children Savez-vous planter les choux? serves as an ideal introduction to this month’s theme.  “Do you know how to plant cabbages the way we do at our place?” the song asks, before telling us about the various body parts the narrator uses when gardening – the hand, yes, but also the foot, the nose, and anything else you want to include.

Sing this song with your child (you can hear the tune here) and talk about the growing cycle, from planting a seed to watering and fertilizing to watching the plant grow and finally harvesting it.  You might need the following vocabulary in French:

Verbs and expressions:

Planter = to plant

Pousser = to grow

Jardiner, faire du jardinage = to garden

Arroser = to water


Le jardin = garden

Le potager = the vegetable garden

Le jardinier, la jardinière = the gardener

La graine = the seed

La racine = the root

La fleur = the flower

La plante = the plant

Le ver de terre = the earthworm

(For a substantially more extensive list, including names of garden tools, different types of gardens, and plants typically found in gardens, see Bright Hub.)

This animated video of a woman singing the cabbage song in her garden also presents the names of various vegetables in French and English.  Other videos of Savez-vous planter les choux?” are available here and here.

If the child likes the song, by the way, you can improvise on it by changing choux to other vegetables (for example, “Savez-vous planter les carottes?”) or changing planter to other verbs, like arroser.

Other garden-related traditional French songs include “Le fermier et le lapin,” in which a rabbit evades the farmer by hiding under a cabbage (but then eats it), and “J’ai descendu dans mon jardin,” where the narrator goes to pick rosemary from her garden and remarks on the poppies growing there.  “Chatouiller le ciel avec toi” by Alain Schneider is a contemporary song about flying with a ladybug.

Alain Le Lait, composer of simple and whimsical songs for English speakers learning French, offers “Ah, les légumes” (about the vegetables he grows in his garden), “J’aime les fruits” (the fruit he loves), and “Je ne veux pas” (anxiety about going outside because of all the insects that could sting him).  (He also has recorded a version of “Savez-vous planter les choux?”)

Nursery rhymes also offer lots of opportunities to engage children with rhyme and rhythm. Catch a coccinelle (ladybug) and recite the following comptine (rhyme) while pointing out her parts described therein:

Elle a des pois sur son manteau
Et deux antennes sur son chapeau
Deux petites ailes pour se faire belle
C’est Madame la Coccinelle!

(She has spots upon her coat/
And two antennae on her hat/
Two little wings that make her beautiful/
It’s Miss Ladybug!)

Other relevant comptines you might want to share with your child are “L’araignée Gypsy(a French translation of “Eensy Weensy Spider”) and “Saisons,” (about the leaves on trees in different seasons).  Momes.net also offers a collection of nature-themed comptines.

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, Art and Drama, which will encourage you to — among other things — act out stories in French about bugs.

If you enjoy these mini lessons from Sarah, please let us know in the comments.  Would you like to have these lessons in other languages?  If so, please keep your comments coming!  Let us know what you want and we’ll keep it coming.


Sarah Dodson-Knight has taught English in France and English composition, ESL, literature, and French in the US. She now coordinates year-round reading enrichment programs at the Lafayette Public Library (Colorado). You can find her at Bringing up Baby Bilingual where she writes about raising children with more than one language and records her efforts to teach French as a non-native speaker to her son (Griffin, age 2) and her nephew (Carl, age 4). On her blog, you will find profiles of bilingual and multilingual families, resource recommendations, book reviews, discussion prompts, descriptions of games and language learning activities, and stories about Griffin and Carl.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nadya July 8, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Thank you very much1 It’s a wonderful piece and I can’t wait to give it a go with my 16 month old (who is speaking Afrikaans and Sotho at the moment and picking words like a snowball).


2 Sarah @ Baby Bilingual July 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Merci, Nadya! I hope you have fun trying these sorts of activities in your multiple languages.

I’m wondering if it is truly accurate to say that these activities are appropriate for native and non-native French-speaking families. (I learned French as a teen and have had to teach myself a whole new set of vocabulary to use with my son; it doesn’t always feel natural to me.) Native and near-native speakers of French, please let me know: is this something you could see yourself doing with your children?


3 smashedpea July 14, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Yes yes yes!!!!
In fact, we do this all the time (just not about gardening and not in French) 🙂

I don’t always remember enough of these in our minority language or my kids prefer the ones all their friends and majority language speaking relatives know and love – so I translate them for or prefearbly with them, and they become part of our regular repertoire.

“Head and shoulders”, for example, has become a favourite and has taught our younger one body parts in both languages. I find it works really well and only wish I’d have thought of doing this when our eldest was still a baby!


4 Laura July 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Thank you for having Sarah write up these summer-y lesson plans! I will be using them for fun inspiration as I try to make my kids’ spanish playgroup more of a language learning environment.

This is definitely me veering off topic, but I’m wondering, is it really just as easy as it looks to decide on vocabulary to use in French? I’m assuming there are regional vocabulary differences just as there are in Mexico for instance. What is the best way to teach a language that has many countries with individualized vocabulary as well as regional vocab? I am wondering if I should give up on teaching Mexican-Tampiqueño spanish (where my husband is from) and teach spanish that is more country neutral? This sort of thing boggles my mind but I am especially anxious to attract to my playgroup the mothers in my area that are natives so their kids can grow up strong in the spanish language. And I worry if the vocab being too Mexican will make the Guatemalan and Peruvian moms feel alienated.

Am I making a big deal out of nothing?


5 Corey July 30, 2010 at 10:51 pm

So glad you are enjoying these lessons, Laura! I definitely am (both for French and ideas for other languages).

You pose a great question for which I have no answer. I guess it depends on how different the words, pronunciation and sentence structure are. I know that with German, when our friends from southern Germany speak in their dialect, my husband and I can’t understand A THING! And sometimes when they speak with a strong southern German accent, it is hard to understand (but over time it starts to make sense).

None of this will help you but maybe adds some food for thought. 🙂 I hope Sarah will see your question and will share some of her insights!!


6 Sarah @ Baby Bilingual August 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Thanks, Laura! I love the idea of a playgroup that nudges kids to interact around an educational theme; the playgroup I take my son to is friendly but completely unstructured.

Choosing vocabulary in French is easy for me, because what I know best is from mainland France. There are some terms from, say, Quebec and Morocco and Martinique that I might recognize when reading and understand given the context, but they don’t come naturally to me. (And there’s plenty of others that send me to the dictionary.) So I teach what I know and don’t worry about it.

In my opinion, someone who would reject joining your playgroup because of the specific variety of Mexican Spanish you use is probably someone you’re better off without. I’m not familiar with the specific ways in which Spanish varies from place to place, but surely what you would talk about with your kids should be more or less understandable to Spanish speakers from other places, yes?

It seems like having families who have different names for some objects and activities can easily turn into a teaching moment. After all, these kids probably already know two or more languages, so they already “get” that one object can have more than one label.

For example, if in an English playgroup, someone from London referred to “bangers and mash,” it would be very easy to tell the American kids that they’re talking about sausages and mashed potatoes. Other American kids might add that they call the former “brats” (maybe they live in Wisconsin, where lots of German immigrants settled) or the latter “mashers.”

Rather than speaking in a way which feels unnatural or uncomfortable to you, invite the other parents to join you in celebrating the differences in how Spanish is spoken around the word! Your kids will figure it out. (At least I think so!)


7 Sarah @ Baby Bilingual August 4, 2010 at 9:15 am

By the way, those of you using other languages with your kiddos should check out Alain Le Lait’s website–he also has CDs in English and Spanish.


8 skel August 4, 2010 at 2:01 pm

This is a very informative site.



9 Corey August 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Thank you, Skel! So glad you visited!


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