Bienvenue, l'enfants


L'Academie des Enfants French immersion preshool opens on North Shore

Sophie Leuchtner, 3, of Kenilworth is one of the first students at L'Academie des Enfants.

With the freedom fries craze finally over, a local language school is preparing to say bienvenue to its first class of incoming students: a handful of 3-year-olds.

L'Académie des Enfants is the first French immersion preschool program in the North Shore, complete with faculty handpicked from France.

"It's a comprehensive preschool that takes place in a foreign language," says Director Maria Kurt. "It's a school that is going to teach all disciplines."

The half-day, three-year private program is offered by the French Institute of the North Shore, founded five years ago to teach conversational French to adults. Kurt started planning the children's school when she realized that other French institutions were located in the city and required too much of a commute for many suburban families.

While the parents who enroll their children in l'académie have varied reasons for choosing a French immersion program over a traditional preschool, they "acknowledge the importance of learning foreign language at an early age," Kurt says.

According to the Educational Resources Information Center, early language instruction increases appreciation for other cultures, improves overall school performance and enhances problem-solving skills. A child who learns a language before age 6 has a better chance of acquiring a native accent and retaining the ability to communicate in that language.

"The earlier you start, the more you have to build on," says Nancy Rhodes, executive secretary of the National Network for Early Language Learning. A child's budding brain is more receptive to new communication skills because "in their developmental stages they are learning the mother tongue, so it's no big deal for them to learn another language," Rhodes says.

Exposing children to a second language can also enhance their personal growth. "It gives a child two worlds to live in, two worlds to understand," Rhodes says. A bilingual upbringing encourages children to put themselves in someone else's shoes and empathize with children of a different country, she adds.

That's just what Michelle Leuchtner of Kenilworth had in mind when she enrolled her 3-year-old daughter, Sophie, in the first class at L'Académie des Enfants. A former student of the adult school, Leuchtner is a strong believer in early foreign language education. And why French? "My brother-in-law recently married a French woman and they live in Paris. I thought it would be fun to have little Sophie communicate with her little French cousins someday."

Leuchtner plans to reinforce Sophie's skills through annual trips to France and by speaking French at home. But parents whose French abilities are limited to selecting a fine chablis needn't worry: the school's faculty will prime the children by speaking only French.

"Communication in French commences immediately upon arrival," Director Kurt explains, "but with facial expressions, gestures, body language, props and visuals, children will understand what is being communicated." Of course, the staff also speaks English and will do so when necessary—for example, if a child gets sick or needs special attention.

Class begins Sept. 2. Annual program fees are $6,900. Call (847) 501-5800 for more information.


--Stephanie Emma Pfeffer

Kids Eat Chicago

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