I have done it again. Having learnt nothing from the tiger mask incident, I have agreed to lead an activity at French playgroup without having any idea at all what I am going to do. All I do know is that it will ideally be connected to autumn but cannot involve sticking leaves onto tree pictures as we have already had a couple of variants on that theme.

Playgroup so far (two weeks, though it started the week before that when la famille Papa-Piaf was en vacances) has been generally positive. The children (especially Piaf) are all quite timid, at least at the beginning of the session – they have just had a whole summer away from each other and perhaps find an hour and a half of communal Frenchness quite emotionally exhausting. 

Then, of course, six weeks is a long time developmentally at this age; everyone is suddenly able to “do” a lot more than they could at their last meeting, and there have clearly been subtle shifts in the power structure as a result. And of course, at the beginning of these things the attendance will always be a bit in flux as the stragglers come back, new families try it out, and families who had tried it and weren’t sure it was for them get revitalised and try it again. Honestly, we could get a soap opera out of this if we could only decide what language to do it in. 

Which still leaves me with the question of what to prepare. My main two sources of ideas are this site in French and this site in English. They are both run by wonderful people who believe in you. They believe that you are a wonderfully skilled and nurturing parent. Crucially, they believe that you have the time and energy to make a pumpkin seed necklace with a small child “helping” you or that you can arouse genuine interest and excitement in the same small child with the prospect of making a book about grapes .

But I, as you will by now perhaps realise, am unworthy of this faith, because I am a coward. Academically, I am one of nature’s truth-seekers, but, when it comes to handicrafts, then, if it is hard, prone to failure, or even just lengthy (more than 30 minutes), I don’t want to know. Don’t take my word for it – ask my woodwork teacher. 

I think I may end up doing the leafy lion . Okay, I know I said at the beginning of this piece that I would avoid leaves – but “feuille” is one of Piaf’s best French words (i.e. she uses the French and does not appear to know the English yet – Papa: un, Maman: zéro). And, yes, I know I got my fingers burnt with the tiger mask – but, again, Piaf (and, I guess, pretty much every small child) likes big cats and especially likes roaring, so that’s another box ticked. And I’ve learnt my lesson. After all, I’m not likely to leave it till the last minute and then stay up till 3 a.m. drawing outlines of a lion’s face and washing dog’s piss off leaves, am I? 

Am I? 

Like this? Try these.

Je rugis, tu rugis, elle rugit … 

Je m’intègre, tu t’ intègres, elle s’ intègre … 

Je me lève, tu te lèves, elle se lève …

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One of the things I have been missing recently is Saturday playgroup, now closed until la rentrée. We have attended since Piaf was eight months old. I don’t know what benefit she derives from it (some, I hope) but for me it has been a life-saver.

To be clear, this is NOT language classes. No one present teaches anything. It is a weekend playgroup for children up to three. It just happens to be conducted exclusively in French.

It is very good of them to have people like us and I’d hyperlink them if only they had a website. When I still thought I might get flexitime from work, I contacted an outfit that meets in Blackheath on Thursdays. The strong undercurrent of the conversation (conducted entirely in French which, as far as I am aware, was faultless) was that, if they deigned to accept an English family, they would be doing me a massive favour. The fact that I communicated exclusively in French with my daughter (which a lot of native French parents in mixed marriages don’t do) apparently cut no ice. I do see their point in some ways – I bet they get lots of calls from English parents who don’t speak French themselves but want their children to learn the language on the cheap – but it was a powerful reminder that chauvinism was named after a Frenchman. Anyway, I decided to muddle through without them.

Les Bambins, the group we go to now, is much friendlier and more accepting, as well as being on Saturday mornings, meaning flexitime doesn’t matter. (Some of the mums also attend Cadet Rousselle on Monday morning but, again, the toad, work stops me from joining them.) On Saturdays, we sing songs – which helps me acquire the culture too – have story time, and attempt crafts.

It should come as no surprise that, until very recently, Piaf has shown almost zero interest in the latter (though she likes banging musical instruments), has proved easily distracted during the stories (though she loves being read to at home) and loves the songs, but sees them mainly as “me and her” time – it’s as if the other children don’t exist. It goes with her age and is changing now.

But even prior to now these sessions have been invaluable. Not only is Piaf absorbing the implication that French is not just a game her dad plays with her, but a valid means of communication for children and adults alike; I get my language refreshed and invigorated in conversation with, and from observing, other native and near-native speakers. And because Saturday is also my morning not to lie in (…) I get a sustained period of speaking to my girl (and watching the ever-present Bumba and Trotro over breakfast) with no interference from her other language.

This was originally going to be a post about a boy-king, a sea monster and a tiger mask, but that will have to wait till next time. Intrigued? I just knew it.