Last Saturday, Ayo tried out a second language class for 1-2 year olds – this time at the Alliance Française. I asked if they did trials like the other center and they said they didn’t. I asked if we could try out a class for free and they said “sure, why not”. Um, okay!
You might wonder why we would take Ayo to a French class in the first place, when he has certainly heard most all of the vocabulary and concepts in our home this past year. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. The experience gives exposure to another native French speaker (using different words, a different pitch, new gestures and illustrating the fact that people other than mama speak this beautiful language).
2. The class gives me creative activity ideas to engage a child this age (not only to learn French but for alternate 1 minute activities to beating the pots and pans!). I was also curious how a language school would structure and choose its activities after visiting a private establishment that offered French classes the other day.
3. It was a chance for Ayo to be in a peer setting and for mama to meet other parents for whom language learning is a value, or who have multicultural families with the most interesting stories. In this sense, it was more like a fun, organized playdate in French than a serious French class.
4. The facility is about 20 steps from our garage door.
5. It was free!
For Ayo, the class / French playdate was a smashing success. No, really! He sat peacefully on the munchkin chair, eyes riveted on the maîtresse and his new pals as they all listened to a gentle welcome song with its cute accompanying hand motions. Whaaaat?? Is that even possible?
I walked him home, wondering if we should go ahead and sign him up for the whole 11 weeks. Interrupting my thoughts was another mother asking if she could walk home with us. Of course! She was a TV presenter in France who now lives in the US. She wanted her daughter to be able to communicate with her French father, who lives in Paris. (I did tell you that we always meet people with interesting stories!) We said our goodbyes as she wanted to purchase her daughter a treat and I needed to get Ayo to his bed. (He was clearly exhausted by the experience, sleeping for over 3.5 hours straight after that.)
So, after attending this class and the one other trial the other day, I took a mental note on what engaged these young kids the most, to be able to pull some activities out on a rainy day or if I ever could grow 1/10th of the energy and patience of this teacher to one day organize a language playdate myself. I do love the social interaction of a group – so wonderful for bébé and mama alike!
Here is what worked the best for these kids of 1-2yrs:
- AMBIANCE / Small furniture (munchkin table, chairs) kept kids from running around the room, friendly teacher, bright colored room, materials up higher than little hands can reach (haha!)
- SHORT SESSION / Setting the time at a maximum of 50 minutes (after that, you could watch one by one get crankier by the minute!)
- THE POWER OF SONG / Simple, short songs throughout the time with either a puppet “singing along” OR with hand gestures
- DRAWING ON FAMILIAR CONCEPTS /The use of really familiar notions: basic colors (not pale blue or scarlet but red, orange, blue), common animals, easy body parts, basic shapes
- SAME CONCEPT, DIFFERENT OBJECT / Different objects to reinforce a same notion: For animals: play with animal finger puppets, then simple farm animal puzzle, then flannel board animals, then play “guess the animal!”for the speaking children (haha!) with flash cards. For colors: playing with bright colored cones, stuffing bright fabrics into the cones, playing with crayons and matching the cones with the crayon color..
- THE POWER OF PLAY / Letting the kids play with the objects presented
- PERSONAL RELEVANCE / Call on each child to interact with the puppet, pick a puzzle piece, choose an animal
- SENSORIAL / A focus on all things sensory: allowing kids to make play-doh animals, play with crayons, play peek-a-boo with the see-through fabric on their heads, trace shape of the hand, touch doggie puppet Filou’s eyes, ears..
- SAYING GOODBYE / Close with upbeat but simple good-bye song. By this time, expect half of the munchkins to be cranky or walking away or crying (ha!)
As you will notice, most of these things are stupidly simple and there are of course millions of ideas one could add to this list to make it fun. So simple, so fun and so engaging. So, why not organize a language playdate of your own? I have thought about doing this one day…
What fun activity ideas would you add to this list for this age group (1-2 minute attention span) that could help them develop a love of language through play? Have you ever hosted a [language] playdate yourself and if so, what advice could you give to mothers wanting to do the same, without having a teaching background?