French for Preschoolers: Resources and Links

Count me as one of those people who thinks that exposing kids to foreign languages as soon as possible is a good idea. To me – in my unresearched and unscientific opinion – it’s better to provide some sort of introduction, even if they decide to go down a completely different path later.

teaching french to kids

In reality, this means that I am teaching the girls French because it is the foreign language that I know. I didn’t have to spend time debating the merits of Mandarin over Spanish in the 21st century world economy, because I don’t know either of those languages. I didn’t have to waffle over using one type of Latin pronunciation over another, because all I can do is recognize Latin roots in French words.

We don’t sit around and converse in French at home, because my husband’s French vocabulary consists of the following: bonjour, merci, and baguette. I don’t force them to memorize words out of context or drill them with flashcards. However, I do use articles when practicing words, because I think it’s awfully hard to go back and associate genders with nouns if you don’t learn them simultaneously.

We are at the very beginning of our French language journey, so this resource list is by no means all-inclusive. You’ll also notice that there is zero direct teaching of grammar (besides using articles to indicate the gender of nouns), zero writing (because they can’t write yet), and zero structure. I haven’t forced us to do a certain amount of French a week, and I don’t plan to do that until the girls are ready for more formal instruction.

Most foreign language programs rely heavily on written work, which is not my primary goal right now. Despite my less-than-ideal accent, and our situational inability to experience much French in use, I want them to get an ear for the language, and understand that not everyone in the world speaks American English. This means that I’m left to my own devices to put together something resembling a coherent language program.

As you’ve probably gathered, I haven’t done this very well. In fact, I probably haven’t done this at all. Instead, I just try to do most of the following during any given week, and consider it our ‘French for Preschoolers’ introduction:

  • *watch a some short online videos, probably from Monde des petits or Comptines et chansons on YouTube.
  • *do a lesson or two with Tonton – sometimes it’s a song, sometimes vocabulary in context.
  • *repeat some words using the Usborne First Thousand Words in French
  • *count in French.
  • *look for things wherever we are – at the park, at the grocery store, in the library – and identify them in French.
  • *listen to French music, whether intended for children or not.

While I am no saint when it comes to avoiding screen time with the girls, I do prefer to avoid screen time in the name of “Education,” simply because I think that there’s a lot to be learned without flashing lights and loud noises. In the case of language learning, however, I know they need the experience of hearing native or nearly native speakers as much as possible, so I bend the rules.

Thanks to my persistent Google-ing and Pinterest-ing, I have learned that if you live in the UK or Canada, you can probably find some awesome preschool-level interactive French classes for your kiddo. I have not yet had much success at finding those same sorts of things here, but I haven’t quit looking, either.

Bonjour Tonton

My favorite, and the girls’ very favorite, is The Language Tortoise. Heidi (who is human) and Tonton (who is a stuffed turtle puppet) are very engaging. Heidi has a downloadable French course, as well as weekly-ish videos featuring Tonton and his antics. For Advent, she did daily videos where Tonton introduced holiday vocabulary in each episode.

Heidi also manages Tonton’s Facebook page, where she posts additional language tips. If you’re lucky enough to live in Exeter, England, you can even take in-person classes. Unfortunately, the commute is just too far for us. 😉

I’ve recently found the excellent French for Toddlers blog, out of the UK, of course, which is a great source for activities that allow you to link a little hands-on fun with French vocabulary. The author is another person who teaches classes for little ones, and is kind enough to post her weekly activities to the blog. My favorite is these awesome egg carton faces for teaching parts of the body.

Book-wise, I haven’t had a lot of success. Many books that I see recommended are actually French translations of books originally written in English. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, it’s not my personal preference. We don’t have a great foreign language bookstore in Atlanta, so I don’t have the opportunity to peruse much of anything in person, either.

Usborne First Thousand Words in French

We do use the Usborne First Thousand Words in Frenchbook frequently. Each two-page, large format spread shows a scene from a specific place, and introduces relevant vocabulary. There are also pages for colors, shapes, numbers, and action words. Bethany’s favorite is definitely the hospital page, so she’s all set if she needs a fauteuil roulant or some comprimés.

Usborne First Thousand Words in French

One of my goals for this year is to track down a good source for French children’s books. I’m hoping I can find some at a reasonable price that will last for a few years. If I ever find anything used, I snatch it up, even if I know it’s not going to be useful quite yet.

Confession: I also buy antique French grammar books because they’re usually gorgeous. I do not enjoy grammar, but maybe I would have liked it better if my books had looked like this?

Vintage French textbook: Pour Lire et Parler

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