Learning French Around the Maison: Music, Rhythm and Rhyme

by contributor · 4 comments

By Sarah Dodson-Knight
Photo Credit: Posh Living, LLC

If you’re speaking French at home with your kids, like I do with my toddler Griffin, then you know that just about anything you do around the house is fair game for rendering in French, from playtime to mealtime to bath time to bedtime.

But what about activities specific to learning and practicing vocabulary words like prepositions, rooms in the house, and names of furniture?  How about some songs and stories about homes that you can share with your children?  Maybe you feel like some interactive games and art projects?

If so, then welcome to Learning French Around the Maison!  This is part One: Music, Rhythm, and Rhyme.  Every two weeks, we’ll publish a new article on this topic, including Art and Drama (Part Two), Literacy Activities (Part Three), and Tactile and Kinesthetic Activites (Part Four).

To start, check out last month’s Introduction, which offers audio and video clips, visuals, and lists presenting home- and house-related words and expressions in French!

Learning French Around the Maison
Part One: Music, Rhythm, and Rhyme

A comptine is a nursery rhyme in French.  Here are a few about houses and homes that you can recite, chant, or sing with your child:

  • Passe, passe petit rat: about a rat sneaking through a keyhole–this rhyme is a game where one child is captured between two others holding hands to make a bridge (see a charming video of children dancing to a different version of the song here).
  • Un petit chat gris: about a small grey cat eating rice on a grey rug despite its mother’s disapproval.
  • Mur usé: another rhyme about a rodent sneaking through a hole, this one caught by a cat, short enough to share here:

Mur usé
Trou s’y fit
Rat s’y mit
Chat l’y prit

These last two are originals from the company Productions KIDZUP and can be heard here:

  • Frotte, frotte (about taking a bath and playing with soap bubbles).
  • La famille hibou déménage (about a family of owls moving house).

The following comptines, on similar themes, have accompanying jeux de doigts (fingerplays) that you can teach your kids:

  • Petit escargot: a snail carries his house on his back; use your hands to show “petit” (thumb and forefinger close together), “maisonette” (two hands form a pointed roof), and the snail’s antennae.
  • Monsieur Pouce: this exists in many variations, all generally involving asking “Mr. Thumb” to come out of his “house”; see also a shorter version as done by a group of preschoolers.
  • Voici la ruche: in which fingers (the “bees”) come out of their “hive” (the fist) one by one.

And then the songs!  We could probably come up with an infinite number of songs that take place inside a house, so I’ll focus on Griffin’s current favorites, first the traditional folk songs and then the contemporary:

  • Cadet Rousselle: about a strange fellow, his houses, and his other possessions.
  • Lundi matin: about a royal family that comes to visit the singer at his house.
  • Une araignée sur le plancher: about some uniquely talented insects in a house, including a spider that knits on the floor and a slug getting dressed in a jar.
  • Au feu les pompiers: an upbeat folk song about a house on fire and the cooks who blame each other for starting the blaze.
  • Ah! Mon beau château: another upbeat traditional children’s song about destroying a building, this time out of jealousy; see a slightly disturbing animated video with lyrics here or a more sprightly version with photos of costumed children dancing around a miniature castle here.
  • Dansons la capucine: one final upbeat folk song on a grim topic (not having enough food at home).
  • Petit Français by Polo: a tribute to the days this musician spent in his grandparents’ country house.

These four by the whimsical Alain LeLait, all of which you can hear samples of here: Allez viens dans la maison (an invitation to a friend to come visit him, have a ham sandwich, and take a tour of the house–great use of some vocabulary in context!)

  • J’ai un réfrigérateur (about the importance of not mixing the contents of the fridge with the contents of the washing machine).
  • J’ai perdu ma clé (about being locked out of the house).
  • Je me brosse les dents (about brushing one’s teeth all the days of the week).

And, finally, it makes sense to conclude this article with a list of some traditional berceuses, lullabies, that you can sing to your children in their rooms at bedtime.

I have had such fun revisiting these familiar songs and rhymes and researching new ones!  Now Griffin’s singing these all around our house, which should carry us until Part Two of this series, art and drama activities in French about the home.

Did I miss any of your favorites?  Please share in the comments section!

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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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sherry segal October 12, 2010 at 5:44 am

Thanks for KIDZUP mention!


2 Sarah @ Bringing up Baby Bilingual October 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

You’re welcome, Sherry! I love the KIDZUP French CDs. I started buying them at AATF conferences years before Griffin was born, and now we have half a dozen or so.


3 Alain Le Lait November 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hi Sarah,
Great article, thanks for mentioning my songs it it. Happy Thanksgiving! Alain


4 enfield nursery October 1, 2012 at 12:11 am

Excellent blog you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours nowadays.
I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


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