3 Mistakes You Must Avoid When Teaching French to Preschoolers (and What to Do Instead)
Learning French is a piece of cake for preschoolers.
But teaching French to preschoolers isn’t always a walk in the park!
Without the resources or training needed to help young learners realize their full learning potential, it’s definitely possible to make mistakes.
And let’s be honest—we’ve probably all made them!
So here are the three most common mistakes to watch out for when teaching French to preschoolers, plus how to overcome them.
3 Major Faux Pas to Avoid When Teaching French to PreSchoolers
Mistake #1: Making It Too Formal
Teaching French to young children is often too structured or theoretical. Rather, make your classes fun and interactive whenever possible, using age-appropriate material and content.
Yes, structure is important and inherent to the French learning process. But just don’t take it to the extreme; children can easily get bored when struggling against repetitive tasks or obscure concepts. Be at their level, but stimulate them! You should have a solid curriculum, but above all, embrace spontaneity when teaching preschoolers.
Young children have powerful imaginations, favoring stories, songs, plays, colorful creation and games, so use that to your advantage. Your classes should focus on these areas while helping them acquire language skills.
In short: Ditch the manuals and opt for fun immersion.
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Use puppets to make learning more fun
Kids love puppets, dolls, toys and colorful, oversized objects. They are a great way to get your kids’ full attention. Become a puppet master and make the objects talk… in French! Fear not—puppeteering isn’t as complicated as it seems. All you need is a fun-looking sock that you can customize, some creativity and clear guidelines on how to interact with puppets.
Children love puppets, but it’s up to you to guide them throughout the lesson. Teach your class simple directions to make the puppet “Move!,” “Come alive!” or “Dance!” Let them interact with it and ask the puppet questions: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you like to eat?
A fun way to practice basic conversation is to bring in a different-looking puppet and let students engage with it using similar question patterns. Curious by nature, young children will become excited. And thus rather than feeling repetitive, this will give them an opportunity to hear a different story from a new, friendly character!
Add variety to the mix with holidays
A great way to find inspiration is by paying attention to the seasons and French holiday calendar. Teach Christmas lessons during the winter holidays, Mardi Gras around February, Easter vocabulary in March and more depending on the time of the year.
Spread the joy and excitement that generally surrounds these periods by sharing the unique stories and meaning that they carry in the French-speaking world.
And of course, don’t miss an opportunity to build long-lasting memories by bringing traditional, festive decorations, foods and music!
Involve their parents
Us teachers can’t do it all on our own, and in fact, young children make dramatic progress when their parents participate in their learning journey. Ask parents to join the effort and help you make French a part of their children’s daily activities. Helping with homework is important, but there are many more areas where parents can make a difference. These activities will not only help recreate immersion, they will also bring the family together.
For example, families can start by cooking a French recipe together… in French! Give parents a bilingual recipe and highlight key words and verbs associated with it.
Alternatively, parents can play the drawing game with their kids, where the parent tells their child a French word that has to be drawn. Print a weekly list of words ahead of time and ask the students to hand it out to the parents for the family activities.
Mistake #2: Using Inadequate Teaching Materials
Teaching French to preschoolers isn’t the same as teaching French to older absolute beginners. They have different learning patterns, memory retention capacity, likes and attention spans. Adults tend to be more committed than children, who often need self-motivation and class management. The good news is, young learners absorb knowledge without much effort, if you know how to channel all that good energy.
When using complex, obscure material, though, students can get exhausted easily and lose focus.
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Opt for content that targets their specific needs
Children at a young age should focus on real-life situations and simple elements. Don’t use materials that are overly complex or not relevant to them. Find and use content that focuses on building a solid foundation and is easy to remember—but that is also entertaining to them. This site has an extensive library of French comptines (tales) which should be adequate and interesting for your students.
Using animated videos featuring colorful, happy characters, catchy songs, memorable lyrics and age-appropriate content is a fantastic way to teach French vocabulary and sentences without trying too hard. Lyrics are available, if you need to print them out for yourself ahead of time!
We particularly love “I Wash My Hands,” the “Song of the Countries in the World,” the “Song of Numbers” or the “Song of Colors.” They have done a great job creating lyrics that will help your young learners remember basic French words while having a good time.
Adapt traditional stories and simplify them
Another great activity is story time. Bring your students together by forming a circle and come to the center.
Find inspiration from Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, using the storylines but simplifying them. Imagine that you’d have to give a summary using simple sentences and basic dialogues. This site has done a great job simplifying Perrault’s most famous stories and making them accessible to young children. With dreamlike graphics and condensed, simple narratives, it should become one of your go-to platforms for free cultural content.
Alternatively, and provided you are inspired, create your own stories and incorporate them in your storytelling sessions. This requires a bit more imagination on your end, but your students will greatly appreciate their uniqueness and, surely, your enthusiasm!
Create toddler-friendly games that keep them excited
Kids love recreating real-life situations and mimicking what they see in the adult world. Turn those scenarios into fun classroom games. Choose games that require interaction between various characters. Teach your youngsters about various professions through role plays, such as La Marchande (The Merchant/Store Keeper), La Police et les Voleurs (The Police and the Thiefs) or Le Banquier (The Banker).
Start by gathering relevant material that is used in the context of your game. For example, the store keeper uses money and sells various products. The policeman chases bad guys and puts them in prison. The banker works at a bank and counts people’s money.
For each game, the goal is to let students play “adult”-type situations, with a twist. In the Merchant game, for example, use Monopoly money or chocolate coins, and “sell” whatever is already in the classroom: pencils, books, etc. Start by modeling a typical interaction by asking one of your students to come and help you. Other students should look at you and follow the interactions so that they can play the game themselves!
Let them form pairs; students should work (sorry, play!) with the student they want. Student A can be the store keeper and student B the customer. Let them interact with each other, watch them and feel free to help if necessary.
Mistake #3: Forgetting to Make It Accessible to Them
Preschool learners are at the very first stage of their learning journey. Regardless of what you are teaching, you should always be mindful that very young students need hands-on teaching.
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Learn the alphabet little by little
Learning how to read can be as exciting as it can seem overwhelming. Make it fun and start small. The best way to begin is by teaching preschoolers the alphabet progressively—and that’s where using fun videos comes in handy! Play that song at every lesson numerous times, and remember to participate and have fun with it too. Nothing encourages young children more than seeing their teacher singing along and having a good time.
Then, use big letters and associate them with oversized drawings or pictures of simple words that begin with the letter in question. Stick to a letter or two a day, using familiar French words (up to three syllables is best) to let students associate the letter with an element they already know.
Don’t forget to remind the kids of a word’s first letter whenever you teach them a new word. For example, if you discuss lapins (rabbits) during Easter season, let them know that it starts with the letter L to remind them of the French pronunciation of the letter, and engage them by asking them to give you examples of words starting with L.
Repeat poems again and again
Use repetition in a variety of ways to make learning concrete and intuitive. Preschoolers have an incredible memory and passive learning abilities—so stimulate it!
A great way to do this is by teaching your class simple poems.
If you are looking for content for 4- to 5-year-old students, the fables of La Fontaine are always a hit—particularly given their strong storytelling component. This website lists the most accessible fables for young learners, but if you believe that it’s too difficult, don’t overwhelm them. Simply select a portion of the fable; roughly two lines should suffice.
Alternatively, Maurice Carême’s poems are fantastic because they are very concise and incorporate basic vocabulary. Feel free to review this website for the best selection for younger students, and incorporate your favorites into your lessons. When sharing them with your children, start by focusing on the words that they know and then introduce the new words. Only when they understand everything should you introduce the poem.
Read it for them carefully, then ask the class to read it together (or repeat after you). A poetry notebook can be a fun way for students to interact with the rhyme. On any open page, the left side should have the poem glued in, and the right side is where students can draw out the poem however they like.
As homework, ask them to complete their drawing—and to memorize the poem for the following week! The following week, ask a few students to step forward to recite the poem. Rest assured that they will remember those lines forever!
Use real-life content that is relevant to them
The sports they play, cartoons they watch, food they love and things they do every day speak to kids more than the activities they don’t enjoy. Try to get to know their preferences when you first build your lessons, or at least make sure that you touch on enough content that will speak to your audience.
A great way to do this is to ask them! If you are teaching 4- to 5-year-old children, you could do this by starting the class with a simple 5-minute conversation activity, asking them basic, predefined questions to get them familiar with conversational French. Repetition will help them memorize simple questions in French, and will also help you get unique insights into their preferences and interests.
“What are you doing this weekend?,” “What is your favorite dessert?” or “What is your favorite cartoon?” are straightforward questions that will help you understand what they love (and in turn, give you your next best lessons). Feel free to bring pictures representing potential answers, which will help them understand the question by working with word associations.
Let your students point to the image of their favorite activity, dessert or cartoon in case they have forgotten the word for it. Then say it out loud so they can hear it, and let them repeat the word several times so they can ultimately give you their answer without using images and your help.
A great way to know whether a topic is popular with the rest of the class or not is to ask other students how they feel about it.
Now that you know how to best teach your young students, you are fully equipped to make them your best learners. We hope that these tips will help quench their insatiable thirst for knowledge, and will help you build a durable connection to the French language and culture!