French Camp for Young Learners provided elementary school children with some basic knowledge of the French language and culture. Michigan has recently integrated the new requirement of two years of foreign language study for students graduating in 2016, namely this year’s seventh graders. This hands on ASL project will provide cross-cultural appreciation and contrast, promote interest in future language study, and integrate foreign language study with social studies, language arts, music, math, and other areas of elementary education. The camp took place over a three day period for the duration of the FR305 class, of one hour and forty minutes with time allowed for travel from campus and back. For this pilot project Mrs. Adams’s third-grade class at Sandy Knoll was involved. The curriculum was as follows: first day, “Discovering Ourselves and Our Friends,” saying hello, description and presenting ourselves to the class. Second day, “Cooking,” using basic cooking vocabulary, counting off amounts of items (eggs, croissants, etc.), saying what you like and do not like, learning important foods in French culture. Third day, “Fine Arts,” using basic art vocabulary, familiarity with some important art aesthetics (impressionism, rococo, etc.), familiarity with major artists (Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Fragonard), familiarity with Paris museums and other Parisian monuments.
The challenge was to create a curriculum that would have the right combination of rigor and accessibility for third grade learners. We had to generate a list of vocabulary for children who may have never heard a foreign language before and may even be resistant to learning one. This meant that we had to accomplish two items. First, select the right kind of vocabulary with some cognates. Second, we had to generate the right amount of vocabulary so as to provide a complete lesson to allow students to communicate with each other, but not too extensive as to overwhelm them. Also, the factor of “fun” was essential in order to spark enthusiasm at the very beginning, and also maintain that enthusiasm for three days of camp. Likewise, it was hard work for students to take the role of teachers who have to show patience, compassion, and persistence in leading the young learners to feel success in the end of the three-day camp.
Students of French 305 Conversational French had the opportunity to review and improve some of their cultural knowledge and to plan a way to teach it to small children. Students benefitted by reviewing their linguistic skills and cultural knowledge and sharing some of their skills with young learners. This opportunity provided NMU students with a rewarding experience of helping others learn and in turn lent meaning to their own learning.