10 top tips for using Bonjour Milo! French resources with very young children
By Ruth Mills, co-creator of Bonjour Milo!
Although Bonjour Milo! French resources were created with primary school children in mind, they work brilliantly well in a preschool setting. For the past two years I’ve run a weekly 30-minute French club at two preschools. The children adored Milo and Amélie from the start and were soon singing and speaking in French. Here are some of my top tips for using the resources with three and four-year-olds.
- Think like a party entertainer The first time I taught French at a preschool, I brought along an inflatable globe and some Google Earth pictures on my iPad and tried to put France in context for the children. It didn’t really work and was a bit like a children’s entertainer starting a party with a long lecture about fire safety! With hindsight, it’s obvious I should have started with my lollipop puppets.
- Bring Milo and Amélie alive Some of the children were quite shy speaking French to me at first. But they are comfortable chatting away to Milo and Amélie even if they are just pieces of card stuck to lolly sticks. Of course Milo and Amélie only understand French so I’m useful as an interpreter! I keep puppets of all the characters hidden in a little spotty suitcase on my lap. When the children call for them, I flip up the lid and use it as a makeshift stage for the puppets. (See video)
- Make deliberate mistakes Sometimes when the children call for Milo, I’ll make another character such as the turtle appear, feigning ignorance. The children love that I’m wrong. It’s a great way to introduce a new character to the story and, as the children grow more confident they scream out “No! That’s not Milo. It’s la tortue!”
- Don’t expect the children to parrot French straight away Most of the children were somewhat flummoxed when they first heard French, having never heard a foreign language before. Unlike the Year 1 children in my afterschool club who could listen to something for the first time and instantly have a go at repeating it, some of my preschoolers were more wary at first and less likely to speak out. They soon grew more confident, however, and are now willing to have a go at any new language I throw at them!
- Always do the warm-up My preschoolers love the ritual of the warm-up routine, especially doing the song. It is simple, catchy and constant and it gets them up on their feet moving around. They never tire of it. Long before they mastered the words they could do the actions and understood the language. It also gives them a chance to demonstrate what they know, for example by identifying the colours of their clothes.
- Play party games Very simple party games such as Simon Says (Jacques a dit), Fruit Salad and Musical Statues go down really well. Jacques a dit (or ‘Milo dit’) gives the children a chance to show they have learned the vocabulary from the warm-up song. To keep it simple I use the exact phrases from the warm-up song. So “Milo dit on saute” or “Milo dit on danse” etc. Another game they love is an adapted Musical Statues; instead of freezing when the music stops they have to do the action for a phrase Amélie shouts out. For example, if she shouts “On saute” they jump. If she says “une grenouille” they leap like frogs.
- Don’t worry about the quiet ones…and don’t give up on them There was a little girl in one of my groups who barely said a word in either French or English all the time I was with her. However, her mum told me that at home she danced around the house singing all the songs. Although she remained very shy, Milo continued to ask her questions and give her at least seven seconds to reply even though the silence could be awkward. Occasionally I was rewarded with a “Ca va bien merci” or an “Au revoir Milo.”
- Live the adventure Preschoolers are brilliant – AWESOME – role players. They have no problem ‘living’ the Bonjour Milo! adventures by trekking through an imaginary rainforest or falling off a make-believe surfboard into an invisible sea. They love wearing the printable headbands and holding puppets but they don’t care about rehearsing and performing the stories as older children do. It’s all about playing, not showing. One concept that all the children get is a treasure hunt, so I often engage them in make-believe or games that involve quests for hidden cuddly toys or puppets.
- Repeat. Repeat. Mix it up. Repeat. Repetition is especially important with three and four-year-olds. The main song on each disc is at the top end of their capabilities, but it is possible for them to learn it over about 10 weeks of 30-minute sessions. That said, you do need to mix up the way you present the story to keep it exciting – using song, dance, games, role-play and all the animation, action video, puppets and storybook on the disc to keep it fresh.
- Let the children choose who they talk to I’ve found that even the quietest children will say “Au revoir” if they are given a choice between saying goodbye to Milo or to Amélie.
Using Bonjour Milo! Musical Stories in a preschool is more fluid, unpredictable and simplified than in a school or afterschool club. But it is immensely rewarding and eye-opening to see how children as young as three can learn to speak French with confidence thanks to the power of Milo!