Learning French in and Around the Garden: Part Three

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It is that time again! Time to have fun in the garden (physically or virtually) in French with Part 3 of Sarah Dodson-Knight’s wonderful 4-part summer activity.

Whether you are a newbie in French or a native speaker, you are sure to find some fun activities in this series to get French language flowing with your children! French not one of your family’s languages? No problem – just adapt it by doing activities in your language and finding children’s YouTube videos and songs in your language. Amusez-vous bien!

Learning French in and Around the Garden

Part Three: Literacy Activities

To get started with this series, check out Part One: Music, Rhythm, and Rhyme and Part Two: Art and Drama of Learning French In and Around the Garden!

Even if you don’t have easy access to French children’s books, you can still read in French to your child about gardens!

  • Grab a seed catalog or a home and garden magazine and describe the pictures.
  • Walk the aisles at a garden supply store and tell your child what the labels say.
  • Make your own books in any of the following ways: by putting pages from magazines and catalogs in a binder; by drawing and writing your own story and then stapling the pages together; or by using digital photos and a photo printing service to design a book with your own narrative.

You probably can find lots of books about plants, gardens, and insects at home or at your library.  If these books aren’t in French, either translate them as you read aloud or “rewrite” them in French by covering the words up with sticky notes and adding your own narration and dialogue.

Other garden-related picture books in English that my two-year-old really enjoys, and which I don’t have too much trouble rendering in French for him, include

  • Little Ladybug, a board book with a plush finger puppet attached which the child can manipulate while he reads about a day in the life of a ladybug; this publisher also offers Little Butterfly and Little Bee,
  • Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth, a counting book with little plastic ladybugs on the pages which little fingers love to touch,
  • Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow teach children in a non-didatic way about how plants grow, and
  • Books by Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit and so on) tell gentle stories about forest-, garden-, and farm-dwelling creatures.

Here are some children’s books in French on the gardening theme that I have picked up at garage sales, on eBay, at foreign language conferences for teachers, and as hand-me-downs from other families:

  • L’imagerie des bébés: La nature, part of the stellar L’imagerie des bébés series published by Fleurus, square board books with soft covers, all charmingly illustrated with whimsical clay sculptures (other relevant titles in the series are Les petites bêtes, about insects; La forêt, about forests; Les légumes, about vegetables; La ferme, about farms; and Les fruits)
  • La minimagerie des enfants: Les légumes, also a series from Fleurus, less charming than L’imagerie des bébés, with cartoonish drawings of rodents and hedgehogs, and snails picking vegetables (also available: Fleurs, flowers, and Animaux de la forêt et des champs, animals of the woods and fields)
  • Les petites bêtes, a lift-the-flap board book about insects, part of yet another Fleurus series, this one called “coucou bébé
  • Voler, sauter, ramper, a tabbed board book from Gallimard Jeunesse about the ways that different animals move, with appearances by animals and insects you’d find in your garden); other related titles in this Mes toutes premières découvertes series are Pluie, vent, soleil (weather), Les animaux de la ferme (farm animals), and Qui mange quoi (who eats what)
  • Le pâté de boue by Lin Quinn, about a boy making a mud pie in his backyard, from the easy reader series Apprentis lecteurs from Éditions Scholastic
  • Léo et Popi au jardin by Marie-Agnès Gaudrat, featuring two characters from a French children’s magazine (Popi) who make mud-pies, pick flowers, and play in a sandbox (these last two are a welcome change from the above nonfiction books about plants and animals–after all, toddlers like mine are more interested in playing in the garden than actually growing things in it!); the Léo and Popi series also covers La promenade avec Mamie (taking a walk with grandmother) and Au parc (at the playground).

By the way, the storybooks with plots (as opposed to factual books) are especially easy to bring to life with puppets, stuffed animals, or improvisation. (Here’s an example of what I did with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a color copier, and plastic silverware.) When your child acts out a story in another language, you can see right away what he understood and what needs more explanation or exposure.  (And this is much more fun for the child than asking him to summarize what he heard or write it in his own words!)

If your child enjoys cooking or helping you in the kitchen, find simple garden-inspired recipes in French, read them together, and then follow the directions to prepare the food.

You and your child could also do some writing together around the garden theme:

  • keep a journal tracking the growth of a certain plant;
  • write a story or a poem about a worm or a favorite bug;
  • create your own recipes using vegetables currently growing in your garden;
  • design a catalog or web page selling seeds for your plants (real or imaginary);
  • or write a letter to an animal that visits your backyard or a neighborhood park.

And if you or your child has already made comic strips as suggested in Part Two of this series, expand them into comic books!  (We recommend these templates as an easy way to start.)

One final literacy activity to try with your child would be to name something found in the garden that begins with each letter of the alphabet: A is for aubergine (eggplant), B is for bettrave (beet), C is for ciboulette (chives), and so on.

What books (in French or in English) about gardens, backyards, and bugs do your children love?  What do they like to write about?  Please share your ideas by clicking on “comments”!

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.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura August 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Seriously Sarah you must have been born to do this kind of stuff :). I have reread these plans several times and I am trying to see if I can adapt all these ideas to a duck and pond theme.


2 Sarah @ Baby Bilingual August 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Thanks, Laura!

Ducks and ponds? Sounds like fun!


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