Being the melting pot that it is, New York City offers many ways for kids to learn other languages. From foreign language playgroups to more formal instruction, exposing your children to different cultures is as easy as un, deux, trois. I did just that with my preschooler last month when we attended the French Institute Alliance Française's first-ever Family Saturdays. A rich and entertaining French cultural experience, FIAF's afternoon of language-immersion programming includes arts and crafts, storytime, live performances and film. Don't worry if your petit enfant can't speak a word of français; knowledge of French isn't required. It's like getting your France fix without having to spend your life savings on a trip abroad.
FIAF's Family Saturdays take place six times a year, and the next one is this Saturday, December 3. We've got the scoop on all of the French-flavored family fun at this weekend's edition.
FIAF wants Family Saturdays to appeal to children at different stages, so instead of hosting one big event, the institute offers a slate of one-off programs that will appeal to various ages. Except for the free library open house, you pay per program, which means you'll want to choose carefully. We've included recommended ages for all of the activities this Saturday, December 3.
French Activities en Famille
My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and I attended this program back in November, and even though it was her first exposure to the French language, she was very receptive to it. My mother was thrilled to hear her granddaughter speak a few French words after we returned home. What they say is true: Young kids really are like sponges! A very interactive experience, this program featured three performers with painted green faces who entertained preschoolers en français. My daughter was right in the middle of the action—well, actually, she was at the head of the line holding a rope as we all followed the performers around the room. Although little English was spoken, the kids joined right in and language didn't seem to be a barrier (even for those who obviously couldn't understand French, like us). My daughter danced and attempted to sing the French songs. This Saturday, the theme is light. Kids can learn about the sun, moon and stars with a hands-on art session led by Stephanie Fribourg of the New York-based theater company L'Oiseau Bleu.
For Young Elementary Schoolers
CinéKids Film & Activities: Eleanor's Secret
In this 2009 French animated film, Nat discovers that his Aunt Eleanor's book collection is magical just as his parents decide to sell the tomes. The fairy tale characters come alive in the library and Nat needs their help to try to preserve the books for others to enjoy. After the screening, kids can do a related craft. Since the film is in French with English subtitles, the movie is best suited for children who can read (or understand French).
For Tweens and Teens
Ciné-concert: Autour de Georges Méliès
You don't need to know any French to enjoy the silent films of Georges Méliès. This early cinema pioneer—whose life and work is currently being celebrated in Martin Scorsese's fantastic family film Hugo—is best known for A Trip to the Moon, one of many shorts being screened today. Even though his movies are more than a century old, their visual power and eye-popping special effects (all done sans CGI) still make for a magical experience. Saxophonist Alexandra Grimal and drummer Tyshawn Sorey will provide live musical accompaniment. Even though younger kids might appreciate Méliès' work, due to the length of the program and the introductory lecture, FIAF recommends it for children ages 9 and up.
For All Ages
Library Open House
If your child can speak at least a little French, this open house is a great way to explore FIAF's collection of books and media. Kids can peruse the children's titles, enjoy a French storytime and also do a craft. FIAF's Haskell Library boasts more than 40,000 books, 1,500 DVDs, CDs and videos, 100 newspapers and magazines, all in French. Although this program is free, space is limited so arrive early to snag a spot.
Is your child a budding Francophone? FIAF also offers French classes for all ages, even toddlers, and will be opening a preschool in September 2012.
All Family Saturdays programs take place at FIAF, 22 East 60th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.
Check out our Event Calendar for other great things to do with kids this weekend and beyond.