By: Caleigh Crow
The concept that made Sesame Street a staple in living rooms across the country is the same concept behind QDF’s French language learning support program Beyond the Basics. Using games, puppets, and play to strengthen student’s skills and confidence in their second language also leads to a better grasp on their first language as well. Rosie Callaghan and David Noel are animators for the Beyond the Basics program, and their students learn French in much the same way a lot of us learned about letters, numbers, and being a good friend: through play. Rosie and David are two performing artists who work in the Montreal theatre industry when they aren’t using their dramatic skills in the classroom. The twelve-week program is designed to support French language learning of children aged three to five through theatre games, puppetry, and play techniques.
For Rosie, the energy they bring to the classroom is reflected and refracted by the students. “The more [we] are excited about learning or playing, the more excited they become.” She says about the enthusiasm she encounters in schools. By her own account, Rosie would have herself benefitted from a program like Beyond the Basics. “I only started learning French in Grade 1, and I struggled to catch up for most of elementary,” she explains, “Giving these kids a base in the French language allows them to have a head start when they head into Kindergarten.”
It’s not just the animators and the kids that are benefiting from the program, but teachers are finding it valuable too. The program comes “highly recommended” per Anne Metcalfe, Director at CPE Tyndale St-Georges. Sara Maiorano at CPE les Bois Verts says the program “really fit in with our philosophy of learning through play.” This philosophy is exemplified in the Beyond the Basics program, where puppets do things like take out ingredients from a pretend refrigerator, making sure to carefully name and spell the item, so that students can meaningfully engage with the content.
Three to five years old might seem a little young to be worried about mother tongues and language retention, but the play techniques employed by the animators are adapted to their age group. While the kids might not know the pedagogical nuts and bolts about what they are learning, the fact is Rosie and David are teaching. “Theatre and make-believe is a great way to entertain, while including information in a fun and non-intimidating way,” says Rosie, “When we are in the classroom it’s playtime.”
Rosie Callaghan & David Noel pose with their puppet pals.