King Cake – A French Tradition

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In order to teach my children all about French culture, I decided to start a new tradition: bake a king cake for Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day, which is January 6th. Traditions vary from region to region. This year, I wanted to make a cake. Next year, I may opt for a galette (pastry) instead.

King Cake and breakfast

King Day Breakfast

We had a lot of fun with it. I hid a LEGO mini-figure in the cake and asked the youngest member of the family to sit under the table and decide who should get each slice.

King Day Traditions

The youngest sits under the table and decides the order of the slices.

The person who gets the slice with the mini-figure gets to wear a crown and be king or queen for a day. Continue reading »

I am no Martha Stewart, but I managed to manufacture a card stock crown while the cake was baking. My daughter glued some beads on it and we stapled it to close it. In France, bakeries will sell the cake with a paper crown.

Girl with mini-figure for King Day

She happened to get the mini-figure in her slice

What do you know? She got la fève (fava bean in French, which is traditionally what they put in these cakes a long time ago). Maybe I should look for a baby for next year, as I hear they also use them in these cakes.

Girl wearing crown for Epiphany

We crowned her queen for a day.

We had fun and thus started a new family tradition, all the while learning something extra about French culture. Vive la reine!


French Friday, Radio France Internationale

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This morning, like on any morning while I am preparing breakfast pour mes petits, I turned on Radio France Internationale on my cell phone. I usually listen to the news in easy French (Le Journal en Français Facile), which I have to download first.

French Flag

If you have not yet taken advantage of rfi.fr resources to learn French, I am here to encourage you to check them out. They have a whole site dedicated to learning French from newscasts. You can get the transcript of Le Journal en Français Facile, too.

Somehow, this morning, I just wanted to push play on the regular broadcast, which is streamed live.  Continue reading »

What a wealth of information about culture! A story about Irina Ionescu, the Paris-born Romanian photographer; the remodelling going on at the Rodin Museum and how the new exhibits will include sculptures Rodin himself collected in his travels, which will open a window on the man; a story about another museum where a new exhibit titled “Joie de Vivre” just opened.

I downloaded the news too, later on, and heard about the match coming up tonight between France and Germany at Stade de France. So much going on in France and Paris. I can hear about it all the way from my kitchen, as I prepare oatmeal and cut up fruit for our breakfast. I don’t need to travel to Paris to feel like I am in the know about things going on over there. Tragically, traveling to Paris may not be the safest thing to do after the attacks we witnessed tonight.

Later in the afternoon, I was in Knoxville with the kids for their group violin lesson which happens once a month. My husband tried to get a hold of us as he got the news of the terrible attacks in Paris, but my phone did not get any signal in the basement of the music building where we were.

On the way home, I called him and he told me about the tragedy in Paris. My heart goes out to the whole country of France and to the beautiful city of Paris – the most beautiful city in the world. My prayers are with the families who lost loved ones tonight – too many for reason. Sadness. All around.

As a Francophone and Francophile, I am deeply troubled by these crimes against France but, as President Obama said, this is a crime against humanity, not just against the French people.


French Friday, Madeleine Cookies

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I have been thinking a lot about the passage of time as my son, my eldest, turned eight this week. What better way to celebrate memories than with a madeleine?

Home made madeleines

A staple in French cuisine, madeleine cookies are delicious and relatively easy to make. You will need a special pan to give the batter their typical shell shape. I got two pans, because it is more practical and my recipe calls for two anyway.

Madeleine pans

For those of you not familiar with French literature, Marcel Proust wrote about a madeleine cookie in A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.

Madeleines cooling on rack

Cooling on rack

As he tasted the cookie, it reminded him of things in his past – which is why the Merriam Webster gives you a second definition of madeleine as “one that evokes a memory.”  Continue reading »

I made madeleine cookies using this recipe. If you want to follow it, here are my tips:

  1. Use non-stick spray oil. I brushed canola oil on the cavities instead. My madeleines did not stick, but they did not come out by shaking the pans either. I had to use a spatula to gently unstick them from the sides.
  2. You might want to lower the temperature to 375F and keep them in there for 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. They recommend 400F. If your oven is fast, you will burn the madeleines on the outside and have some undone in the middle.
  3. Melting and cooling the butter should be your first step, even before you pre-heat the oven. Critical path. Just sayin’.
  4. To fold the lemon zest, use a concave spatula. It mixes better, but still gently.
  5. Don’t pour madeleine batter into the cavities as they recommend in the recipe unless you are 150% coordinated. It’s very messy and you have to be extremely precise and ready to catch the drips with a spatula in your other hand. Instead, use a spoon or your concave spatula from tip #4 above.
  6. Dust some powder (confectioners’) sugar over them. They are good without it, too, but even better with it.

Just for fun, here’s Martha Stewart’s recipe. I am giving you options. Everybody loves options.

You can add all sorts of flavors to your madeleines. I will say that if you follow the recipe to the teeth, you should have a lot of success with it.


Petra Lingua Revisited

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Petra Lingua is our curriculum of choice for learning French. We read books in French and I talk to them in French in the afternoon, but we build vocabulary in a systematic way with Petra Lingua.

I have written before about this website: here and here. You can learn many languages, like German, Chinese, Spanish, Italian and even Swedish.

In the fall, when it became clear that my local homeschool community did not really have an interest in our French Play Group, I put Petra Lingua to the side and focused on reading to the kids in French. I also tried using French on a more consistent basis with them, in the afternoon.

Then life happened: the holidays in November and December; my father’s passing in January; the flu in February. While they lingered on the bed with no energy, I read to them a lot, but then I also put a laptop in front of them to see if they had any interest and energy for Petra Lingua French. They did!

Children studying with Petra Lingua

My children study French with Petra Lingua while having the flu

So much so, they fought over who to do the exercises. Continue reading »

 They brought the account we have with them from 25% accomplished to 40% and, a few days later, 50%. I was happy to see the progress, and then wondered if we could do this on a more consistent basis, say twice a week. When I grew up, we took French and English in school, starting in middle school. Every week, we had two hours of French and two hours of English. If you applied yourself, you could become an advanced speaker by the time you finished high school, and some of us did.

Children study French online

My children’s energy came back as they worked through the exercises on Petra Lingua

Petra Lingua is not very expensive, it is fun for young kids, and it provides lots of repetition to facilitate memorization. You can purchase it online or on CDs and DVDs. The mascot, a dog named Oiffy, is adorable. You can even get a hand puppet to use with your youngest audience.

They do offer me this software for free in exchange for an honest review. I am here to honestly tell you that this program works if you work it. My children sing along and remember words and phrases many weeks after the lessons. Here’s to consistency in teaching languages!


Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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So glad to be reviewing one of the French Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages. You know me, I love a good French curriculum for my kiddos. This came available to me through the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. It doesn’t get better than free, right?

Boy and girl watching Le Petit Chaperon Rouge

My kids watching Le Petit Chaperon Rouge

I was entrusted with Elementary French for grades 3-5, obviously, geared towards students in grades 3-5. You might say, “Wait just a minute, Adriana! I thought your kids were in first grade and PreKindergarten. How come you are putting this curriculum in front of them, when it’s for higher – albeit elementary – grades?”  Continue reading »

Provided you said all of the above to me, including “albeit,” I would answer with a reassuring smile: “Never fear, dear friend! I am no pushy mama. My kids can handle this because it is a series of cartoons in French, followed by interactive exercises. I have been teaching them French for five months now, using other resources. Sure, the vocabulary in this course might be a bit over their head, but that’s where learning comes in. They get challenged to learn new words while repeating words they already know. The cartoons keep them riveted to the story line. My kids might even get some words from the context on the screen.”

Middlebury French Course Elementary

What we got out of it was lots of listening to French. Plus, my son, who can read in English and Romanian, was able to peek at the French captioning on the screen while the cartoons were going on – so a gentle introduction to what French sounds look like when you spell them out. Yes, this curriculum is great that way. You can hear AND see the words being said right on the screen.

The exercises are interactive. Kids either listen and choose the right words, or arrange numbers in order or click and move words around on the screen to match concepts etc. They are so varied. After watching the cartoons, which are classic stories like “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” (“Little Red Riding Hood”), the students get to answer questions which drill vocabulary.

Middlebury Interactive Languages

The price for this is $119 per student per semester.

The curriculum repeats the cartoon after a few exercises. Repetition is the mother of learning, right? This is especially true with languages. After that, more exercises, including – I am not kidding – a language lab! How cool is that? Using your device’s mike, you can record your own voice and hear it back in order to correct your pronunciation.

Middlebury French Course Language Lab

There are also tidbits about culture, called CultureGrams, which allow the kids a window into how people who speak French interact with and greet each other.

Of course, this company offers several courses for different age groups, as you can see below.

Middlebury Courses

For your information, Middleburry Interactive courses for the K-2 crowd include a total of 35 lessons for the semester, while the Grades 3-5 program (what I worked with) has 45 lessons per semester. They recommend two days a week for Grades K-2, and 2-3 days per week for Grades 3-5.

Both the Middle School and High School programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester, with the recommendation that students complete a lesson per day for 18 weeks. All levels are self-paced, so the student can speed ahead or slow down as needed.

We were definitely self-paced. When my kids get into something, they can’t stop. They watched almost all the videos the first session. I sat and translated through them all, then guided them through a few exercises. The following session, they just wanted to watch the videos and do no exercises. I had to tell them we will not be watching any more videos until they work through the exercises.

So even though we did only two sessions per week, we got rather far, but we skipped over some of the drills. My plan is to go back and systematically work one lesson at a time and make sure we cover all the drills available. Otherwise, I don’t think they will remember the vocabulary.

Middlebury Interative Languages on Social Media

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French Friday, Tu or Vous?

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Once and for all, let’s settle the discussion about the familiar “tu” or the formal “vous” in French. I found this witty flow-chart which will take you through all sorts of social situations.

You will find out how to address God in French, among other things. (You might be surprised…)

tu ou vous - french friday

Also, how to address your boss if you are upset with him and you want to let him know about it. (I would like to be a fly on the wall, provided your boss speaks French and you talk to him/her on a regular basis in French… Riiiight!….)

Continue reading »

Last but not least, how to address Le Petit Prince – a literal one, that is.

The author wrote Flirting With French – a book that promises to be deliciously funny. (Amazon affiliate link)

So much fun. Click over here and learn some French.


French Women Don’t Get Fat

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If you are up to 30 lbs. overweight, love to eat, and hate gyms, French Women Don’t Get Fat is zee book for you. Here’s my review of this national best-selling book.

I read this book for the sheer pleasure of learning more about French culture. To my surprise, I was already doing many things French women do. But it makes sense. Because Romania is a Francophone nation, we grew up with many French ideas about life, liberty and the pursuit of good food.

Like a French/Francophone woman, I happen to hate gyms and love to eat, but I am not overweight. That’s because I pay attention, a concept hinted at in Bringing Up Bébé, as well.

Continue reading »

However, I did learn a lot more principles French women follow as they pay attention to their weight. Want the skinny? (Sorry, I could not resist…) In two words: portion control. Easier said than done.

Well, this is where Mireille Guiliano’s book comes in: she will tell you how to trick your mind into being satisfied with two tortillas instead of three. Or two ounces of chocolate instead of six. Intrigued?

French Women Don't Get Fat

You really should read the book. There’s no substitute for the real thing. Just to um, whet your appetite, here are some of the power points:

  • French women eat three meals a day.
  • French women don’t snack all the time.
  • French women drink two quarts of water per day. At least.
  • French women never let themselves be hungry.
  • French women never let themselves feel stuffed.
  • French women eat with all their five senses, allowing less food to seem more.
  • French women train their taste buds, and those of their young, from an early age.
  • French women honor mealtime rituals and never eat standing up, on the run, or in front of the TV.
  • French women don’t watch much TV.
  • French women eat and serve what is in season, for maximum flavor and value.
  • French women love to discover new flavors and are always experimenting with herbs, spices, and citrus juices to make a familiar dish seem new.
  • French women understand that as an adult everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.
  • French women plan meals in advance and think in terms of menus even at home.
  • French women love to entertain at home.
  • French women walk everywhere they can.
  • French women take the stairs whenever possible.
  • French women think dining in is as sexy as dining out.
  • French women are stubborn individuals and don’t follow mass movements.
  • French women know l’amour fait maigrir (love is slimming).
  • French women eat for pleasure.
  • French women avoid anything that demands too much effort for too little pleasure (like sweating in a gym).
  • French women don’t diet.

If you want a plan of attack, the book will give it to you. Here are the main points:

1. Write down everything you eat for three weeks. Don’t count calories, just write down approximately what you ate and how much. At the end of the three weeks, watch for patterns. Round up the usual suspects (too much food late at night, too many sugary, salty, greasy snacks, not enough water, too many caloric drinks etc).

2. Make a leek soup (recipe in the book) and eat that for two days, plus drink all the water you want. Leek soup is a natural diuretic, it tastes divine, and it will get you a jump start on the French way of thinking about food. Losing a bit of weight in two days won’t hurt, either.

3. The next three months constitute your short-term recasting. The principles in the bullet list above start here. You will lose at least half of your target pounds during this time.

4. Stabilization and eating for life – this is the bulk of the book, complete with recipes and ideas on how to think your way into a thinner you. Also, how to move more without sweating and hurting and paying expensive gym memberships.

The author, a French woman married to an American, lives her life in New York and Paris. She is entertaining, informative, and not at all preachy. She is comfortable with herself and with her message. She is not afraid to admit that one of the reasons France is not the super-power that America is, is that France has not acquired all the technologies that have made American life so convenient and comfortable. But, on the other hand, she points out that it is this easy lifestyle that has made Americans fat.

In conclusion, as Molière put it, Manger bien and juste. (Eat well and eat right.)


French Friday, Petra Lingua Review

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We love French in our homeschool. I have started teaching my children French on a regular basis this spring. We joined the Alliance Française of Knoxville, signed up for Popi, and watched Caillou on youtube. However, I felt the need for a systematic approach to learning French. Enter Petra LinguaContinue reading »

Full disclosure: they are one of my sponsors. But I would not be writing about this curriculum if I did not think it was great or if I did not use it with my children.

French learning for kids under 10 - Petra Lingua

French learning for kids under 10

So Petra Lingua is for younger elementary kids, say ages 3-10. However, if you are an adult who needs to study French and enjoy animation, this is a great product for you, as well. I would add that if you feel intimidated by language learning, you should definitely consider Petra Lingua. Their mascot, a cute doggy named Wuffy, will become your best buddy – while teaching you French.

I know my kids laugh every time he enters the screen. He makes an entrance in a different way every time.

The lessons contains songs, repetition, a chance for you to repeat back what the speaker said, as well as exercises to practice what you learned.

Also, you should know this product comes in two versions: an online version and a DVD kit, which offers a booklet with exercises and a music CD, as well as the DVD for the lessons. At the end of the 20 lessons, you will have learned 500 basic words in French and, hopefully, you will have gained some confidence toward more lessons.

They even have a lesson plan you can follow so that you know what to expect (or what to do) for each lesson.

The online product costs $4.99 per month for six months. How’s that for a bargain? You can do one lesson a week and be done in 20 weeks, with no stress and without breaking the bank. If you wanted the DVD kit, which also contains a Wuffy Dog Handpuppet and a set of playing cards to practice vocabulary, it is $75.

So it boils down to how good your internet connection is. I use this set to teach my French Play Group at the library and their connection is not so good on some days. The result? The songs get interrupted a lot as the laptop keeps buffering. I have learned to bring the DVDs instead.

My kids love Wuffy and they play with the handpuppet a lot. They sing the songs and request certain lessons just because they like them. For instance, my daughter really, really likes the Vegetables and Fruits – which happens to be available for free on their website. My son prefers the lesson about counting to 20 – things come in train cars and he loves trains.

If you want to watch the free lesson, go ahead and sign up. You will receive a code for 15% off when you do decide to purchase. How cool is that?

As we progress through these lessons, I will be back to tell you some more about them. Until then, au revoir!


French Friday, Allons Danser! Review

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For a couple of months now, the kids and I have been listening to Allons Danser! – a CD with French music for kids, produced by Whistlefritz. It has been such a great tool for my French Play Group, not just for my children. We use the Bonjour, Les Amis song to start the meeting and Au Revoir to close.  Continue reading »

At home, I play the entire CD as the children play and I cook or do some other housework. It’s the best background music. You know how music can influence your mood even if you don’t understand the words? Marie-Louise Desage’s crystal-clear voice gives me joy. And although I understand the words, the music makes me feel like I am on a beach vacation as I wipe kitchen counters or peel potatoes.

Allons Danser! CD cover

 

The Carribean-infused melodies, written by Didier Prossaird, go along well with summer time or any time of the year when you wish you could have summer back. In short, these songs put me in a good mood – a vacation mode. They are not just for the kids.

Here’s a listing of all the songs, with the vocabulary you can expect to learn and drill as you sing:

  1. Quand Je Serai Grand listen – When I grow up – job titles
  2. Bonjour Les Amis listen – Hello, friends – greetings and the weather
  3. Un, Deux et Trois listen – One, two, three – body parts and, obviously, counting to three
  4. Le Vieux MacDonald listen – Old McDonald – farm animals and their sounds
  5. La Danse des Mains listen – The dance of hands – place adverbs like up, down, to the side etc
  6. Ma Journée listen – My day – a daily schedule of meals and activities
  7. Le Bain listen – The bath – feet, water, tub, getting into the tub, it’s fun – an invitation to have fun with bubbles
  8. L’Heure de Ranger listen – Time to clean up – here, there, now, dusting, cleaning, sweeping, broom, duster
  9. Des Jouets listen – Toys – plane, flying, bicycle, pedaling, etc.
  10. La Barbichette listen – Goatee – to hold, ouch
  11. Il Pleut listen – It rains – umbrella, yes, no, dancing in the rain, big clouds are gray etc.
  12. Les Doigts listen – The fingers
  13. Y’a Pas de Fête Sans Gateau listen – No party without cake – gift, giving a gift, etc.
  14. Les Enfants Quand Ils Dansent listen – The children, when they dance –
  15. La Tête, Les Épaules listen – Head, shoulders – the same melody and vocabulary as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  16. Le Camion de Glace listen – Ice cream van – all the kids come out of the house when the ice cream van passes by
  17. La Grenouille Reinette listen – A frog named Reinette – whimsical and funny
  18. En Haut, En Bas listen – Up, down
  19. Les Petits Poissons listen – The little fishes – swimming, in the water, little, big, the same as
  20. Au Revoir listen – Goodbye – saying goodbye in different ways, the party is over, it’s time to say goodbye

We all memorize so much better if the words are set to music. This collection will be the perfect addition to your French class. We listen to it in the car, too. I am still amazed by how much I can retain just by listening to 15 minutes of French music a couple of times a week. If you, like me, are looking for ways to maximize learning throughout the day, you will appreciate this CD you can add to your car schooling supply list.

The CD booklet contains all the French lyrics, as well as a vocabulary list for each song. Thus, instead of paraphrasing so you get the gist of the song, Whistlefritz gives you word-by-word translations to help with your goal of learning French. How helpful is that? Any homeschooling mom who took some French and remembers some should be able to utilize this CD and help introduce her children to the sounds of the beautiful French language.

Allons Danser!  CD Booklet

The CD booklet provides the lyrics and their literal translation

My children break into song in French out of the blue, while playing or running around outside. Their pronunciation may not be all there and they may not understand everything they are saying, but it’s a start. Plus, it is a great opportunity for me to join them in song. Sometimes I exaggerate a bit the correct pronunciation so they can correct themselves. Other times I just sing and have fun along with them.

I highly recommend the Allons Danser! CD above any other language learning CDs I have bought – and I bought a few.

Disclaimer; I received a free copy of the product above in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. The Amazon links above are affiliate links. All opinions I have expressed here are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.


French Friday – Our First Play Group

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A few days ago, I ran our first French Play Group according to Lesson Plan Numéro 1.

We had five children ranging from one to ten, two girls and three boys. One family traveled 45 minutes to attend and said they would be back.

Everybody behaved well. All the kids showed great interest in learning French. They made an effort to sing and pronounce the words when I asked them to.  Continue reading »

The Library moved us to a different meeting room and it actually worked for the better. They needed the larger, Burchfield Room, as an art studio for now, because they were busy painting large props for their upcoming Summer Reading Program workshops.

Two boys work on the laptop

Two of our students working the exercises on Petra Lingua

They gave us the Community Classroom – a smaller, more intimate setting, perfect for our purpose. The small quarters discourage running, roughhousing, and talking.

I placed the blocks in one corner, the Lincoln Logs in another, the Madeline puzzle on a table, and the felt board on another table. I encouraged the children to play while I set up the rest of the materials.

The Library sent their technology person to help me connect my laptop to the large screen in the room. We had a great atmosphere as I played Allons Dancer from Whistlefritz while the kids were playing and getting to know each other.

We start on time (that’s the plan, at least) and do not wait for stragglers. However, given our new location, I waited five extra minutes to make sure people had time to get their bearings and find us. It is a larger building – by small town standards.

We ran through the Bonjour song twice, then I read them the books. Petra Lingua was a hit – maybe because the kids loved operating the laptop and seeing their work projected onto the large roll-down screen.

They actually took turns doing the exercises over and over, which only gave them more practice.

We sang another song – Dans la forêt lointaine.

We barely had time for free play – which tells me we really need to start on time AND I need to read less books. No more than three books, I think. And, maybe, no extra song for now.

We sang our Au Revoir song twice and then we actually said “au revoir” to each other on the way out. On parle français déjà!

Later, I checked with the building manager and she agreed to move us into the Community Classroom from now through Aug 24, when we go to Bridgemont – another smaller, more intimate meeting room.

I am glad to be completely out of Burchfield, which is a huge room. I ran a LEGO Club in there two years ago and it just feels like you get lost in it, especially when you have less than 10 students.

Several of the families interested in our Play Group went to the Petting Zoo that day – a field trip they had planned for four months, long before I started the French Play Group. So we will have to repeat the lesson and that is just fine by me. Repetition is the mother of learning.

I did not mean to create a scheduling conflict, but I had to start somewhere and working with a Library gives you only so many options.

À bientôt!