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After Work: A Whole Lot Of Learning Goin' On

"Tucker, nearing his second birthday, is quite the linguist. I’m his grandmother so I know first hand just how superior his skills are. So there...''

Dona Gibbs, on holiday in London, recently attended Le Petit Club Pierrot, a French language club for UK children ages 8 months to 9 years. "For me, the most impressive thing was that everyone seemed to be having fun,'' she says.

To unearth a treasure trove of Dona's columns please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Tucker, nearing his second birthday, is quite the linguist.

I’m his grandmother so I know first hand just how superior his skills are. So there.

Recently I attended Le Petit Club Pierrot, a French language club for UK children ages 8 months to 9 years, with Tucker and Robin, the energetic mother of this wunderkind. There are classes in several child-dense parts of London. Tucker attends a once a week class in a church parish hall in St. Johns Wood.

The London-based Le Petit Club Pierrot started in 1993, is run by Stella Bataille. It’s become a popular program since it seems that many parents are disappointed in UK schools’ delay in starting a second language until the over-the-hill age of 11 or 12. It’s received great press and raves from parents.

“If you start a second language early enough you can be bi-lingual later in life,” Ms. Bataille said in a BBC interview.

For me, the most impressive thing was that everyone seemed to be having fun. At least most of the time. For a batch of two and three -year -olds an hour without a major meltdown is an enormous accomplishment.

The teachers are enthusiastic and caring. They are bouncy to the point that I wondered if they had had two espressos during their break.

The educational props are a little worse for wear but inventive. The day I was there the teacher held up a bag decorated with a house with a wonderful textured roof just right for scratching your fingernails on. That is, if you’re two- years old and given to that sort of thing.

Out from the bag came a cardboard sun.

“Is it sunny?” the teacher asked in French.

The kids looked and shook their heads.

“Is it cloudy?” she asked holding up a grey cloud with streamers representing rain.

Yes, yes. Little heads bobbed up and down.

This being London, I thought, there was little chance of another answer. Ever.

So what if a kid or two wanders off. They are quickly fetched back by their moms or in one case, dad.

Next comes an art project. Making an homme out of dough. Words of the days: sel, farine, and eau. That’s salt, flour and water for those of you who don’t have the vocabulary of a two-year old club member.

“Roulez, roulez, “ the bright-eyed teacher instructed.

Those of us who didn’t want to muss our favorite flower sprigged dress or get yucky dough on our finders demurred. Thank goodness we have moms for that sort of thing.

There was an educational toy session. A big hit and then back in the circle again.

They belt out a French song about ladybugs. It holds the kids’ attention even though the nuances of the lyrics and the complex hand gestures seem a little bewildering. Little fingers are popped into mouths rather than waved in the air.

The parents sit in the circle with their offspring, happily warbling along, twinkling their fingers in synch with the instructor. Wow, those parents are advanced.

Tucker dashes off and climbs a bench. He’s got a plan. He’s going to liberate the toys. He’s going to hurl them from their storage spot up on a stage down to the kids in music circle.

But no, Mom thwarts him from his dangerous but heroic climb. There will be no more toys. And no trips to the emergency room. Moms can be so stodgy when you’re two.

Tucker’s back in the circle, snuggling against Mom. No hard feelings, right?

He points at the radiator and says, “Hot.”

“”Chaud,” Mom replies.

“Hot,” he repeats.

He looks at me.

“Chaud,” I whisper wanting to present a united front.

He looks at Mom. And then at me.

It’s a nascent withering glance—one I think he will perfect by 15.

Obviously, we’ve both gone bonkers.

Yes, at Le Petite Club Pierrot, there’s a lot of learning going on.

And in two languages.

“Au revoir” said Tucker at the end. “Bye,bye.”

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