Capturing the attention of preschoolers can be quite a challenge.
You’ve got to keep it simple and you’ve got to keep it fun.
While the older students in your French classes may benefit from more involved activities with the language and games focusing on grammar, you may succeed best with preschool-aged kids by teaching them French through songs.
Which is great, because songs do wonders when it comes to improving students’ listening and speaking skills.
What’s more, your students can retain information much more easily when singing.
However, just like when teaching French to English speakers, teaching beginners in the language or teaching French to adults, there are special considerations to keep in mind with very young children.
For example, popular French songs like “Aux Champs Élysées” may be too difficult for them.
Luckily, we’ve put together a list of the best songs for teaching preschoolers the French language.
So, if you want to get your preschool students active in French and set the foundation that will get them through kindergarten and beyond, look no further!
How to Teach Preschoolers More Effectively with French Songs
Warm them up
When you first hear a song on the radio, you don’t start singing along right away. First, you have to listen to it a couple of times through. Nobody “teaches” you the song, but after a while, you’re able to memorize it and sing with confidence. Preschool children are the same way: They need to gain familiarity with a song before they can remember it.
To help them learn a song naturally, start by playing it in the background: Play it while your students are doing something else, without specifically drawing their attention to it, and then casually ask what they think it’s about. What kind of feeling do they get from the song? Do they like it, and if so, why? What does it remind them of?
This process is especially important when introducing a new song to preschoolers: It’s important not to focus only on the words. Let your students be inspired by the melody, the rhythm, the tempo and, if applicable, the dance and gestures.
Tell them a story
Once you’ve gotten their ideas on what they believe the song is about, proceed to explain to them the overall theme of the song. Discuss the meaning and general story behind the song, then check for understanding. However, don’t get bogged down by details. You’ll lose them if you try to explain each word of the lyrics. Ease into the words gradually: Knowing the overall storyline is enough to get them excited initially.
After they’ve grasped the meaning of the song, you can teach any difficult words using drawings, flashcards or even real-life objects like puppets.
Another fun way to introduce new vocabulary is through guessing games, such as charades, or tongue twisters. You can also use visualization by drawing pictures of the words in question on the blackboard.
Repetition is key. It’s important to get your preschoolers comfortable with the song before expecting them to start singing on their own. While doing so, don’t be afraid to play it multiple times: The more they listen to it, the more they will get familiar with the lyrics, melody and beat of the song.
Don’t be afraid of boring them: Preschoolers enjoy listening to the same songs over and over! And if you notice that certain songs are a particular hit with your class, take advantage and incorporate them into many different activities.
Et après ? (What’s next?)
Once your students have mastered the lyrics, it’s time to challenge them!
One fun activity for this is a singing version of “fill in the blank.”
The rules of this game are simple: Play the song, then pause it. Your preschoolers should be able to finish the lyrics and sing the rest of the song on their own, without hesitation. Do this multiple times throughout a song. It generally gets them laughing, a lot!
Now that you know how to teach your preschoolers French through music, let’s look at some songs that are sure to be a hit in your class.
5 Magical Songs for Teaching French to Preschoolers
1. “Frère Jacques” (“Are You Sleeping?”)
“Frère Jacques” is one of the most popular French songs you can find and certainly a slick way to introduce your preschool students to French culture. They may already be familiar with the melody, as it’s used in several of the more modern early childhood education songs. Easy to remember, the first and second verses are identical and sung in a round.
The link above, which goes to a version of the song that incorporates hand movements, is just one example of many fun videos you can share with your students from FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The song is about a friar who has overslept and is asked to wake up to ring the matins, the midnight or very early morning prayers for which a monk would be expected to wake.
The song includes a lot of repetitions, and is a great way to learn simple sentence structures such as questions and sentences using the imperative tense.
Rather than focusing on grammar rules and trying to explain how the tense is formed, ask students to come up with their own lyrics by following the overall theme of the song and using similar sentence structures.
For example, dormez-vous ? (are you sleeping?) could become comptez-vous ? (are you counting?) or chantez-vous ? (are you singing?), and sonnez les matines (ring the matins) could morph into allez à la ville (go to the city) or chantez la comptine (sing the nursery rhyme). Encouraging this kind of creativity will allow them to intuitively learn similar structures while having fun!
2. “Nous n’irons plus au bois” (“We’ll Go to the Woods No More”)
Aside from being incredibly catchy, this is a historic song that will bring your students closer to French culture. “Nous n’irons plus au bois” was written in 1753 by Madame de Pompadour for the children of the village of Evreux, after her lover, King Louis XV, gifted her the Palace of Evreux. Today, the residence is better known as the Élysée Palace, home to the French presidents.
The song is marked by a joyous melody and words that adhere to the spirit of freedom, as in the line sautez, dansez, embrassez qui vous voudrez (jump, dance, kiss whomever you want to).
This song has a hidden meaning, with “the laurels are cut” alluding to the closing of whorehouses that featured a laurel tree branch atop their entrances. Likewise, “Au clair de la lune” (see below) has some hidden sexual references. However, you shouldn’t let these “adult” references discourage you from using these songs in class, as of course you don’t need to discuss any of the subtler meanings with your preschoolers!
This song is the perfect introduction to learning negation and the present participle. Sentences are kept short and simple. In addition, it’s chock-full of words for describing nature, with various allusions to trees, flowers, fruits and animals.
3. “Au clair de la lune” (“By the Light of the Moon”)
This very famous and popular lullaby dates back to the 18th century. While no one knows who wrote it, everyone in France knows the song and its poetic lyrics by heart! It’s also one of the most commonly taught songs for music students when they first start learning an instrument.
The song is about a boy who cannot study at night because he cannot see well in the darkness. He decides to go ask his friend Pierrot if he has a light but, being already in bed, Pierrot suggests he go check with the neighbor.
Use this song to practice a real dialogue with your students in French. The story is told in the first and third person in the present tense, making it a great resource for learning how to start speaking using the spoken “I” and to report actions using “he” and “she.”
4. “Une souris verte” (“A Green Mouse”)
“Une souris verte” is another song from the 18th century. It’s well-known throughout the French-speaking world, but its writer has remained anonymous. There are numerous variations of the song, but the first verse tends to be unchanged.
The song is about catching a green mouse and dipping it in oil and water to turn it into a “hot snail.”
Some believe that the lyrics allude to the War in the Vendée, an uprising in the West of France during the Revolution. The theory is that the green mouse represents an officer from the Vendée who was captured by a Republican soldier. The soldier shows the officer to his superiors, who then proceed to torture and eventually kill him. At the end of the song, the soldier is rewarded with a coin.
If this doesn’t seem to you like the kind of song you’d want to teach preschoolers, fear not! The origins of the song are uncertain, and many believe that it isn’t as bloody as all that. It may have been inspired by the 15th-century British song “Three Blind Mice,” about a farmer and his wife catching running mice.
This song is a great way to introduce your students to three key tenses: the present, imperfect and imperative. What’s more, it alternates between reported speech and dialogue, making it a smart resource for exposing your students to these structures and setting solid grammar foundations.
5. “Le bon roi Dagobert” (“Good King Dagobert”)
This old kid-friendly song was written in the 1750s, at a time when the French were starting to question the monarchy. It’s so iconic that the clock of the town hall of the French town of Saint-Denis alternates between “Le bon roi Dagobert” and “Le temps des cerises” (“Cherry Season”) for its hourly chime.
The song is about King Dagobert, King of the Franks between 629 and 634, and his chief counselor, Saint Eligius, patron saint of metalworkers. It was inspired by tales of debauchery of King Dagobert, written to ridicule the royalty by telling the story of a king who isn’t capable of putting his britches on correctly and is so clumsy that he may cut himself near his sword.
“Le bon roi Dagobert” is a song rich in vocabulary. Aside from learning about the proper way to name various pieces of clothing, your students will learn several hobbies and the objects associated with them.
Also, the song includes numerous instances of Saint Eligius giving the king recommendations: As such, it’s a helpful start for learning how to give friends advice.
Now you know the most magical songs to teach French to preschoolers.
Use your best voice and start singing along.
Who knows? Your students might just ask you for more!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like teaching with fun songs, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic French videos that people in the French-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “suit,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun questions based on what the student already knows.
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about French!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach French with real-world videos.