New French program fills void after school's closure

Courtesy of Christelle Couturier
Christelle Couturier, pictured here with daughter Anne, has launched a French- immersion program for preschoolers.

When Petits Confettis closed its doors last spring, Christelle Couturier was left without a French-immersion preschool for her young daughter to eventually attend. So Couturier decided to create Jeu d’Enfant – a French-immersion recreational program she now runs through the city of Los Altos.

“My son’s preschool shut down and I realized there were no options that offered part-time preschool,” she said. “Then I realized I wasn’t looking for a preschool. … I wanted a special place where he could just play and learn with his friends.”

When Couturier decided to start her own program, she contacted Manny Hernandez, the city’s parks and recreation director. In June, the pair said they made it official.

“We felt that there was an interest for it, especially with the French school no longer open … and it was a good proposal,” Hernandez said.

To get Jeu d’Enfant up and running, Couturier needed to start a business. She named it Mademoiselle Anne after her infant daughter, who will attend the program when she gets older. Jeu d’Enfant, scheduled to begin its first session today, translates to “Child’s Play” and is for children ages 2-5. The program is offered up to three times a week and is set up so that children can learn French through immersion and play.

And at an informational meeting last week, a dozen or so children did just that.

“Frère Jacques” danced over the speakers as the children played and flipped through French picture books with the program’s instructors. Many of the parents spoke French among themselves, but some non-French-speaking parents attended to learn more about the program.

Sin-Yee Tan said her twin boys, whom she plans on sending to Jeu d’Enfant once a week, are fluent in English and Mandarin. The appeal of the program, she said, is that she can send her sons once a week when they aren’t in preschool, plus they will be introduced to a new language.

“I’m not expecting them to be fluent,” she said. “I’m hoping they’ll just be exposed and make new friends.”

Bilingual benefits

But for some parents, the French-immersion aspect is key.

Christina Vernaelde, whose husband is French-American, said it’s important to them that their children are bilingual. Their daughter attended Petits Confettis, and Vernaelde wants a similar experience for her son.

“I’m the English speaker, so I did very basic things at home (with my daughter), and she really started picking up French when she saw her peers speaking the language, not just her teachers,” Vernaelde said.

Elodie Laplace-Grangier, one of the program’s two instructors, said she hopes to provide the atmosphere Vernaelde is seeking. Laplace-Grangier, a native of France, previously worked as an assistant teacher at Education Francaise of the Bay Area, but she jumped at the chance to work with younger children in a French-immersion environment.

“I used to volunteer to bring some little French songs and books,” she said of her child’s preschool. “I noticed they learn so fast. … Even an English-speaking kid who is not immersed in French or anything can pick up the language just by hearing the songs and reading books. So, I decided to tag along for the adventures.”

Jeu d’Enfant’s first session runs 13 weeks, but Couturier has plans to continue in the winter and eventually expand.

“(We have) plans that may not include French, but other activities,” she said. “But I have a little one, which is why I also started this program, so I have to wait until she’s older before I can actually expand.”

For more information on Mademoiselle Anne and Jeu d’Enfant, visit

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