Why our French camps are booming!
The interview was conducted in French, so if you’re a French speaker who wants to tune in, you can do so here.
Don’t speak French?
No worries! Here is a full breakdown of the interview below:
Host: Camp Tournesol is the largest day and residential French camp in the GTA. Describe Camp Tournesol to us.
Martine: The camp was founded 14 years ago, so we have been servicing the French-speaking community in Ontario for quite some time now.
Every summer, we take children from ages 4 to 14. beginning at age 7, all campers can speak French through French Immersion or attending French-only “Francophone” schools. However, I’d say only about 20% of the campers are from French-only schools and the rest are in French Immersion.
Campers come to us to socialize and have fun. The camp gives kids a chance to see that they can have fun while speaking French during the summer in Toronto.
Host: Wow, you take kids as little as age 4?
Martine: Yes. We have kids as little as 4! We call it our Bouts D’Choux program.
Host: These are day camps, right?
Martine: Right. These are day camps. The starting age for our residential camps is 8 years old. We do fun overnight trips to Muskoka. We also do Quebec and Europe with kids from 10 to 15 years old.
Host: How do Campers spend their time during camp?
Martine: In our day camps, the day is split into different sessions with our main goal being that campers converse in French. So in each session, the organized activities encourage kids to speak to each other. For example, we play a lot of team games, play card games and board games – all in French. They even play, “Mille Bornes,” which is a game I used to play when I was young that none of them have ever heard of!
During the week, campers develop a rap with a pre-selected group and all groups compete at the end of the week for “Best rap.” We also have various local artists who come every Friday and judge the competition. So it’s electrifying for the kids and they really enjoy this event.
And of course, we also play typical camp activities like soccer-duo and capture the flag.
As for our overnight trips, it’s a cultural experience as much as it is a language experience.
Host: What happens at the Muskoka camp?
Martine: We take over a camp host ( a typical overnight English camp) with about a dozen Francophone counsellors and about 60 campers. This summer, we did 3 overnight trips. The campers sing songs that we used to sing when we were young around the campfire, they canoe, sail and other fun outdoor stuff so typical overnight camp activities – just all in French.
Host: Tell me about the Quebec and Europe experience.
Martine: We do this trip every 2 years. Our aim is to see 2-3 regions in either Quebec or France. We try to place campers in situations where they will have to speak French. For example, they might order a chocolate croissant in French.
We also go and see the sites. When we were in Charlevoix, for example, we were on a farm and went to see the whales. So it’s cultural as much as it is an immersion experience.
Host: You said the camp opened in 2001. And in the past 4 years, you went from about 1800 campers to 2500! How do you explain that huge growth?
Martine: What I’m seeing is that the growth of the French Immersion program in Ontario continues to be on the rise. The students who graduated from French Immersion who are now parents are insisting that their children learn French. So those parents are researching opportunities to show their kids that they don’t only have to speak French in the classroom and that it is possible to have fun while speaking French.
Parents are adamant about showing their children that they can find friends to speak French with during the summer, and that there are other kids just like them who are speaking French in Ontario in the summer. Socializing in French during the summer in Toronto is rare. Even if the parents are French-speaking, we see that if the child plays hockey or any other activity, it’s extremely likely that it will be in English. Socialization in Ontario normally is in English.
So francophile parents are showing incredible enthusiasm when it comes to developing their children’s French during the summer in Ontario.
Host: Whenever I walk around schools, I see that most of the time kids speak English in the hallways. How do you keep the kids speaking French at Camp Tournesol?
Martine: We know that is our challenge. We have 9 campuses in the GTA. And the model that we found to be very effective is employing a diverse group of counsellors. We have counsellors who are qualified French teachers. We also have University-level counsellors who are studying to be teachers. We also have counsellors who are young, hip high-schoolers who are enthusiastic about speaking French. Seeing high-schoolers speaking French definitely inspires campers to speak French as well. It means it’s not just mom who wants them to speak French!
We also use various other methods to motivate campers. We give tattoos, we have a badge system similar to the Scouts program where kids receive badges for speaking French every day.
Beyond our motivation methods, we also keep them very busy. There’s a ratio of 1:8 for the big kids and 1:5 for the smaller kids, so we’re with them throughout the day making it hard for them to hide in a corner and speak English! Of course, there will always be some who are more motivated than others, but the mix of university and high school students who are enthusiastic about French helps tremendously.
Host: In other words, “Speaking French is cool at Camp Tournesol!”
Host: What impact does Camp Tournesol have on young campers?
Martine: Campers realize that developing their French is a positive thing. They also realize that they are capable of socializing in French and winning games in French. They enrich their vocabulary, which reinforces their desire to continue their French education. That is important because we have seen that when people don’t practice their French, they lose their French and as students get older, they begin to wonder if it is worth it to continue in French. We hope that we can show them that it most definitely is!
It’s our goal to show campers that French is a vibrant language that we can all use to laugh, play and have fun. Plus, young people can also get jobs at Camp. In fact, some of the campers who came on the France trip in 2007 ended up being CIT and then counsellors at the Day Camp in future years.
Host: For parents who still want to register their kids for Camp Tournesol this summer, is it still possible to do so?
Yes, there are still a few places left at some of the campuses. If there is a parent who is interested, they can still contact us for registration.
What did you think of the interview?
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