Restaurant du Chêne: Play-Based Language Learning in the Early Years
Silicon Valley International School (INTL) recently played host to the hottest culinary pop-up in town at the Oak classroom in our Early Years Center (EYC). Patrons were greeted upon arrival by a line of finely-trained servers waiting to lead them to private, outdoor tables decorated with the finest hand-made, dip-dyed paper flower decorations. Restaurant du Chêne (Oak Restaurant) was open for business!
Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” At the INTL Early Years Center, one of the main ways that children learn is through play. By exploring different modes of play, children learn to inquire into concepts, discover connections and solve problems in a supportive setting.
Pretend play and dramatic play are particularly important in language learning and development. According to Carol Westby, creator of the Westby Symbolic Play Scale, “pretend play and semantic language share the common feature of relational meanings between things. In pretend play, children learn to classify, compare, and reason, all semantic organizational skills.” Pretend play allows children to expand their vocabulary beyond a list of words and pictures. By utilizing language inside fantastical settings and situations, they can explore meanings and discover practical applications for their words.
The classrooms in the EYC provide a rich learning environment that is saturated with language, surrounding the students with linguistic exposure in spaces designed for them. The children are granted agency in their learning, fostering their sense of inquiry. Whether it is exploring inviting corners with bilingual print in various forms or dressing up to explore avenues of adventure, the children build a sense of ownership over the classroom and an understanding of their voice in the learning process. In this instance, the students were an integral part of creating the menu, the setting, and the style of the restaurant. The cakes were even made by the students themselves, they practiced reading recipes and made all of the cakes in class the day before the event.
Upon being seated, the parents were taken through the menu by their children in French. The menu included: gâteau au chocolat, gâteau au citron, gâteau au yaourt, café, et jus d’ orange. The students would also translate those options into English for their parents if needed. Before taking the order back to the “kitchen” to be fulfilled, the young waiters would ask other questions like, “Voulez-vous de la crème ou du sucre dans votre café?“ (Would you like cream or sugar in your coffee?). They also exercised physical skills, balancing their trays as they delivered the orders to the excited customers.
It was a wonderful chance for the students to share their language proficiency with their families while enjoying a delightful meal. The customers left delighted by Restaurant du Chêne and its service!