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!
Learning French Around the Maison
Part Three: Literacy Activities
So far in this series, we’ve brushed up on our vocabulary about houses and homes, sung songs and recited rhymes, and got creative with art and drama while we help our kids learn and practice French. Now we’ll look at ways to engage children in literacy activities in French, even if you don’t have access to many books in French, even if your kids are too young to read on their own! Our current theme is houses and homes, so we’ll use that as our springboard to reading, writing, and storytime activities.
Let’s start by reminding our family members of the relevant vocabulary!
- Label objects in your home (furniture, rooms, the contents of kitchen cabinets) by writing words and expressions on index cards or half-sheets of paper and attaching them near the objects they describe. (You or your kids can do this.)
- Then, after your kids are used to seeing them there, play a game by switching the cards around and asking them to return them to their proper places! (Or wait to see how long it takes them–or your spouse/partner–to notice. “Hey, that’s the toilet, not the réfrigérateur!”)
- If your children have a dollhouse, have them label the furniture, rooms, and objects there instead.
- Or draw a blueprint of your house (or make a collage with cut-out magazine pictures) and write the words on the paper.
If your children are reading, try some of these vocabulary games:
- play le pendu (hangman),
- do word searches (this one, or make your own online or on paper),
- fill out crossword puzzles (create your own online or on paper),
- do these matching and true/false exercises with pictures,
- match the picture with the word (try these 12 different memory games or these four with household vocabulary, or make your own cards for memory using photos from your home or your own drawings).
Use the Internet as your personal library to find all sorts of reading material in French about homes and houses:
- Websites for home improvement stores (such as Mr. Bricolage).
- Furniture stores (such as Fly).
- Real estate agents (such as Immobilier Paris).
- Toy store catalogues featuring dollhouses and similar toys.
- Easy recipes which you can follow in your home kitchen to cook with your children.
- Animated books brought to life through Tumblebooks, which many school and public libraries in the US subscribe to, with home-related titles such as Sardinette Flanellette by Carole Tremblay, a story about a witch family, and Papa est un dinosaure by Bruno St-Aubin, about a father who acts suspiciously like a dinosaur.
You might also encourage children who can read in French on their own to do some research online or to interview someone from a Francophone country about the following topics, then write about what they learned:
- Housing in Francophone countries.
- Homes around the world.
- Cultural mores regarding homes (for example, when you are invited to visit a family in Paris, you will probably have to ring a buzzer at the street entrance to the apartment building, you will not be given a tour of the home when you arrive, the doors to all the rooms will be closed, and you might find a bidet in the bathroom).
Lots of other possibilities for writing activities related to the home exist as well. How about:
- Writing a letter to Père Nöel or a family member with a wish list of ideas for gifts for an upcoming celebration.
- Write down recipes that you invent or adapt together in the kitchen.
- Design a catalog, brochure, or web page to sell possessions that your children no longer want.
- Design a real estate flyer to “sell” their dream home (a castle, perhaps? A cave?).
- Writing a letter to a character from a favorite book, suggesting a vacation home swap.
You can also make your own books about homes in several different ways with a different focus for each one by drawing pictures, taking photographs, or cutting out magazine pictures. You and your children could try:
- Creating a book about a day in the life of each of your children, like this one that I made for my nephew
- Rewriting and illustrating familiar songs (for example, a version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” enumerating the rooms and furniture in your home: “La famille a une maison, E-I-E-I-O. Et dans la maison il y a une cuisine….“)
- Making a book about the chores they have to do
- Designing a book about your home in different seasons
- Creating comic books (try these templates as an easy way to start)
- An alphabet book, where each letter represents a type of lodging or something in the home (“A est pour appartement, B est pour bâtiment, C est pour chambre…”)
But perhaps the easiest literacy activity you can do in French with your children is simply to read to them. Here are some recommended titles about houses and homes:
- Le chat chapeauté by Dr. Seuss: a translation of The Cat in the Hat, the beloved picture book about a naughty cat and his Things (“Bidoule Un et Bidoule Deux”) that cause chaos in a home while the children’s mother is away; the French translation uses engaging rhymes just as the original does–my two year old loves this and chimes in at the end of most lines; also, this book is easily available in the US.
- Le grand album de Petits Ours Brun by Danièle Bour: large, brightly illustrated pages, many of them showing the rooms of a house, with the objects and furniture clearly labeled.
- Petit Ours Brun dans son bain by Danièle Bour: a much smaller and shorter paperback about the familiar character Little Brown Bear taking a bath (many other Petit Ours Brun books on similar day-to-day topics exist as well).
- T’choupi a perdu Doudou by Thierry Courtin: T’choupi is another well-loved character (this time a penguin) who stars in a series of books (and cartoons) about everyday life for a toddler; in this one, T’choupi is looking for his lost teddy.
- La Journée de Mimi by Lucy Cousins: in this series (translated from English, where the character is named Maisy), a young mouse has adventures with her friends; the book linked here is a sticker book that asks your children to help Mimi set the table, take a bath, and do other typical tasks around the home.
- Où est Mouf ? by Jeanne Ashbé: a board book with flaps to lift to look for a missing cat, using lots of prepositions and furniture vocab (“sous le canapé” and so on).
- Bonsoir Lune by Margaret Wise Brown: a translation of the bedtime classic Goodnight Moon, featuring the objects in a child’s bedroom (but without the charming rhymes of the original); this book is also easily available in the US.
- Bear at home/L’ours à la maison by Debbie Harter and Stella Blackstone: a bilingual book presenting the different rooms of a house, aimed at children ages 2-6; this books is published in the US
- The current issue of the toddler magazine POPI is about houses and homes.
- Souricette by Anonymous: a fairy tale about a little mouse who takes a hazelnut and is imprisoned in a little house by its owner (suggestions for using this book in the classroom can be found here)
- And many other fairy tales, in fact! Several of the most familiar ones feature houses as a crucial element of the plot: Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, even Little Red Riding Hood! If you don’t have access to a French version of these stories, just tell them in your own words (or place sticky notes with your own rendering in French on the storybooks you already own).
The final installment in this series, kinesthetic and tactile activities, will appear here at Multilingual Living in two weeks. Please join us for more fun language-learning games!
I’d like to thank Michelle from Pardon My Franglais for sharing the titles of her daughter’s favorite books about the home–merci mille fois!