Do you know a family with a preschooler, who would like to make friends, sing songs and have a lot of fun in French? If so, then you should share the news about the Flatiron French Playgroup!
I had the opportunity to meet the organizers of this MeetUp Playgroup, Estelle, Monique and Adela, and to attend a session 2 weeks ago in the heart of Manhattan. Sincerely I wish I still had an “under 4 year old”, just for the pleasure, one hour a week, to enjoy the warm and welcoming ambiance here… Judge by yourself !
It’s 10 am Wednesday morning and as adults arrive upstairs with their little ones full of energy, everyone is greeted individually by the 3 hostesses. I look through the huge room separating the different areas:
-the “free play” zone, where children are already playing with toys, practicing walking on child-friendly stilts or performing gymnastics on the heavy mats,
-the reading and singing corner with comfortable mats,
-the tables already settled for art and craft activities,
and still plenty of room left to accommodate all the strollers!
Definitely a great space for a Playgroup !
Adela, who is Head of Admissions at EINY (Ecole Internationale de New York), explains : “We meet every Wednesday morning at 10 am, inside the Preschool building of EINY, 206 Fifth Avenue, New York. The School graciously lets us use this very spacious and sunny room on the 5th floor, called the MPR (Multi-Purpose Room), that enables us to host the whole group of children, parents and caregivers!”
MyTutorSpeaksFrench: Where did the idea to start a French Playgroup come from? When did you actually had your first session?
Adela : The former owner of the school, along with Mr Rivaud (Head of EINY), came up with the idea of starting our Meetup, the “Flatiron French Playgroup”. They asked Estelle, who holds a French degree of early childhood education, whether she would like to join the crew and we started our very first session almost one year ago, in March 2016.
Monique: As a Mum of 2 children at EINY and as a Parent Representative, I love working and playing with children. I thought it would be great to have a playgroup linked to the School. Beside of co-organizing the workshops, I’m in charge of our MeetUp page, the correspondence with the parents and I also manage the online registrations.
MyTutorSpeaksFrench: Do you consider any admission criteria for the children to participate? How do I sign up ? How much is it?
Monique: The playgroup is totally free and any child aged 2 to 4 is welcome to join with a parent or caregiver who does not even have to speak French!
After you register online on our MeetUp page, you can enroll for the session you wish to attend, and we will be looking forward to seeing you and your child to speak, sing and have fun in French!
The sessions are open for registration 2 weeks in advance on a first come, first served basis. As we offer 12 spots weekly, we usually have a waiting list so we are considering the possibility of starting a 2nd weekly session!
The only thing we kindly ask the members is to notify us if they signed up but eventually cannot attend, so that another child can use the spot!
After 10 minutes of free play, as everyone has arrived, Estelle and Monique gather the children with the song “Bonjour”, ask them to seat comfortably on the mats, and start to read them French books, then to sing classical French songs.
Estelle: This week’s theme is Valentine’s Day, so we chose stories about love and friendship! I also love to read counting books and have the children count along with me. For the songs, it’s a bit different: we like the kids to sing along with us, so we practice the classics over and over!
Also, even if we encourage them to do so, we don’t expect all children to stay seated all the time. It’s perfectly fine if they explore the room and toys, as long as their parents or caregivers keep an eye on them.
At the end of the last song, the children come to the tables and start to work on the Valentine’s cards Monique and Estelle prepared for the activity.
Estelle: Most children have one parent who speaks French and does one’s best to transmit not only the French language but also the French culture. Sometimes, both parents are American, had the opportunity to spend some time in France, and wish to stay in touch with the French community. So most children are quite familiar with French!
Anyway I always stick to French with them, even if they talk in English.
As the children are still young, we also keep activities quite short, 5-10 minutes maximum. Today they draw on the cards we prepared (“Je vous aime” to be read on them!), and add stickers to create a personalized Valentine’s present!
The activity is different every week, from modeling with playdough to playing motricity games, through working on an “art and craft” project” or practicing fine motor skills…
The parents I talked to unanimously agreed this is not easy to stick to French when English is the family language spoken at home, and that it feels especially frustrating when the children would not reply any word in French. That’s a reason why they really appreciate the Playgroup: “It’s nice to practice and to make some friends who speak French!”, a Mom says. “And the toys are great!”
When everyone has completed one’s card, it’s time for the group to celebrate a little boy’s 2nd birthday. His Dad explains he has been coming every week with his son since he has heard about the MeetUp, last December, and both of them really enjoy it.
At the end of the session comes the moment for dance moves in music, then the “tidy-up” song and eventually the “goodbye” song. The 3-4 year old children are definitely into it, and lead the round dance while singing loud, holding their mates or adults’ hands!
Definitely these children are having a blast in French that will prepare them for bilingual schools or being true French speakers!
Find out more about the Flatiron Playgroup and register on their MeetUp page, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos credits : oksix@123RF.com; andreykuzmin@123RF.com