French Summer Day Camps in Oregon: Our Experience

Oh là là--can you believe la rentrée (back to school) has arrived? My husband returns to teaching high school this week, and my children and I will officially continue our homeschooling journey. We would have loved to return to France to continue the incredible experience we had there last summer and fall, but since we needed to stay in Oregon this summer, my older two children were thrilled to attend a week of French day camp. Here in Portland, Oregon, there are two French schools offering French immersion summer day camps, they are quite similar in price, and both programs are fantastique. Here's what we loved about them:

My daughter on Bastille Day in Portland this summer

My daughter on Bastille Day in Portland this summer

My daughter attended a week of l'Etoile's summer program two years ago, and while she wasn't used to a daycare-like setting at the time, she nonetheless wanted to return to day camp at l'Etoile French Immersion School this summer. Despite the distance of l'Etoile's location from our home, I was happy to sign her up for a week of theater-themed camp because the instructor is a French friend of ours. l'Etoile's summer program is small and comfortable, with a building for preschool children and another building across the street for elementary students. The main program runs from 8-3pm, but we opted for the half-day program (9-12:30pm) to avoid afternoon traffic.

L'Etoile French Immersion School this past fall

L'Etoile French Immersion School this past fall

Etoile's summer schedule follows the rhythms of free play, structured activities, lunch (brought from home), and two recesses. The theater option meant that my daughter participated in a breakout group that wrote a skit (en français, bien sûr!), practiced their lines, and performed the skit for the preschool students. I think the instructor guided the students quite a bit during the writing process because the skit turned out to be a very sweet, coherent piece that had none of the jumpy, silly hallmarks of most child-written pieces!

The children all spoke English to each other at recess, but when I made conversation with them in French, they spoke French to me without hesitation. Several of them had native fluency, and all of the campers seemed to have at least a basic level of French ability. My daughter's pronunciation and vocabulary seemed to improve a bit in just a week of enrollment. "C'est mieux," ("It's better,") she said about their skit rehearsal, making an impressively good emphasis on the aspirated "Hhh" sound of mieux. I couldn't agree more.

You can find out more about l'Etoile's summer programs here.


"Le summer camp" - French is different in the USA!

"Le summer camp" - French is different in the USA!

In slight contrast, my preschool-age son attended an ocean-themed week of day camp at the French American International School. We did this initially because the handball camp for which he had been enrolled at l'Etoile was cancelled due to lack of enrollment, but we also switched to FAIS because it would give our son a chance to have a French camp experience that was uniquely his own, rather than following in his sister's footsteps.

Initially I was unsure about FAIS' summer camps because their website states that their summer program provides "instruction in both French and English." That disappointed me, since we're constantly looking for full French immersion to help create a need for our children to speak French. FAIS probably uses some English for the sake of the campers who aren't enrolled in French immersion during the school year and therefore have no French knowledge. (I've noted this same English and French usage in l'Etoile School's preschool summer program, which often includes some non-French speaking children.) 

My son and his French camp instructor

My son and his French camp instructor

Bonnes vacances FAIS French School Portland Oregon

Nonetheless, my son and I were very happy with the FAIS French day camps and the FAIS camp instructors seemed to speak French fairly consistently. More students were enrolled at FAIS than in l'Etoile's summer programs, but class sizes at FAIS seem smaller--my son's class was limited to 9 students. The summer camp hours at FAIS are also a bit longer, as campers can be dropped off as early as 8am and left until 3:15pm, though we again opted for the half-day program. My son made some simple but creative art projects, listened to books read aloud, and enjoyed free play with his classmates. I appreciated the extent to which his instructor tried to teach about the ocean, such as when she played whale sounds while the children ate lunch one afternoon. C'était un vrai succès--my son enjoyed learning in French, he made friends with his classmates, and he continues to talk about FAIS as his school even though he knows we will continue to homeschool. I'm sure we will continue to rely on French immersion summer camps whenever we remain in the U.S. for summer breaks.

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