France Unit Study: Week 1

Bienvenue en France! This week we will tour the terrain and landmarks of France with some fun mapping exercises. We will also explore the French language with our friends from The Cultured Kid and learn how to write a research paper. Our science lessons will include the physics of ancient weaponry found in ancient Europe and the chemistry of perfume making, which France is famous for. But our favorite part of the week might be the lemon lavender cookies. Let’s get started! Click here to download your skills tracker for this week.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading:

Optional chapter book:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list by so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Topographical map DIY:

Canal model:

  • large aluminum pan/sensory bin or a sandbox
  • sand
  • faux plants or leaves and sticks to make your own
  • small land and water toys such as people, bridges, and boats (or you can make your own with whatever materials you have on hand)
  • foil

French language lesson:

Mini trebuchet:

Make your own castle:

Lemon lavender cookies:

Lavender perfume recipe:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

The Middle Ages in France included rule by kings in a form of government called an absolute monarchy. (Here’s the kingly timeline if you are curious to see the names and dates.) Absolute monarchy ended with the French Revolution (The death of King Louis XVI in 1793), which eventually led to Napoleonic rule (rule by Napoleon Bonaparte and his successors). Memorizing names and dates and wars is often what gives learning history a bad wrap, so instead, we will focus on some of the highlights and jump around a bit in the timeline. By the end of the month, your child will have been introduced to some of the important people, places, and stories of France—and gotten a taste of the culture, food, language, and landscape that make this country one of the most visited places on earth.

Activity 1: Start by finding France on the map, atlas, or globe. Point out that France is in Europe and name some of the surrounding European countries. Next, print both pages of this map of France on cardstock. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the blue box that says “telecharge”. This icon only appears when the website is in French. Once you have printed the PDF, Google Chrome should give you the option to translate this website from French into English so that the directions will be easily understood.) Once the map is printed, cut out the puzzle pieces. Build the puzzle map to learn the names and locations of the 13 regions in France.

Next, take the map outline and put it inside a laminating sheet (but do not laminate it. Take two more empty laminating sheets and layer them over the first sheet, like this:

Fold down the first sheet and use permanent markers to begin drawing a topographic map of France. On the first sheet, locate and draw the mountains. On the next sheet, draw the rivers. On the next sheet, draw the forests. The layers will begin to look like this:

Include a key on the map. You can now flip and layer each part of the map to discuss different parts of the landscape. Keep this map, as we will be adding other points of interest later in the week.

Activity 2: Did you ever wonder how France became France? Celtic tribes from central Europe moved into the region, and when the Romans occupied the territory in the second century B.C., they named it Gaul. Julius Caesar established full Roman control over Gaul in 51 B.C., but by 400 A.D., Rome was in decline. Gaul was attacked by neighboring tribes, the Germanic Franks, from which France would eventually get its name. (source

Read UEWH, page 204, to see where the Frankish kingdoms arrive on the history timeline. 

(+) Watch this video for the “entire history of France in 23 minutes.” 

The history of France is marked with wars and revolts. For centuries, the French warred with each other in civil wars and with the kingdoms that surrounded them, including England, Burgundy, Normandy, and Spain. In the 16th century, the wars turned to religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Throughout history, France was ruled by kings, emperors, and generals and went from being a monarchy to a republic to a monarchy to an empire to a republic. In short, they changed things up a lot! We won’t go into detail about every change in this unit, but if it’s something that interests your child, there is plenty to discover through their own research.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll learn more about Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great.

Activity 1: Charlemagne became the King of the Franks in 768 C.E. and ruled over parts of Western Europe. Here’s a map of Europe at the time of his rule.  Like most rulers, there were good and bad parts to his reign. Read UEWH page 216 for a summary. Next, watch this video for a brief history of his life and rulership. 

Discuss the facts with your child. If you lived during this time, what would your life be like? Would his focus on education benefit you? What about his rule on forced conversion? 

As mentioned in the video, one of Charlemagne’s accomplishments was the creation of canals. The word “canal” derives from the Old French word chanel, which means “channel.” A canal is a human-made waterway that allows boats and ships to pass from one body of water to another. Canals are also used to transport water for irrigation and other human uses. While the advent of more efficient forms of transportation has reduced the need for canals, they still play a vital role as conduits for transportation and fostering global commerce. (source)

Activity 2: Learn more about the Rhine-Danube Canal here. There are still many canals in France. Click this link to see six of the most beautiful canals today. 

Activity 3: Now, build your own canal as is demonstrated in this video

Lesson 3:

Parlezvous français? Let’s learn more about the French language with today’s activities.

Activity 1: The primary language spoken in France is French. Let’s practice some French with the help of our friends at The Cultured Kid. Click here for a free lesson to learn a few action words in French. Watch the video for help with pronunciation, and then download the free flash cards. Review the words with your child, making exaggerated gestures to reinforce each one. 

Next, play a game of Simon Says to help reinforce what your child has learned, using the French action words as your cues. Use the script download for help to guide the activity.

Want to learn more French this week? The Cultured Kid is giving our subscribers a one month lesson bundle of their program for just $1! Download the flashcards to access the discount.

Want to try more of The Cultured Kid? Use code ANNUAL100 for $100 off of the full year program!

***Click here for our review of The Cultured Kid and to learn more about how they’re helping children learn a second language even when their parent isn’t a native speaker!

Activity 2: Why are there French words in the English language? The origin of the English language is a topic linguists love to debate.

Although English is a Germanic language, it shares a lot of vocabulary with French, a Romance language. But why? The Norman Conquest of 1066 was a key event that led to French words being used in England. Following the conquest, England was ruled by the Normans, who spoke a northern form of Old French called Anglo-Norman French. Under Norman rule, Anglo-Norman French began to influence the language of administration, law, and culture in England, eventually making its mark on the English language. (source) Let’s examine the French roots of a few English words and see how these origins affect the spelling of the words. 

  • You may have heard the spelling rule that English words don’t end in the letter ‘u’. But what about words like menu and impromptu? Well, those words are actually French words and were adopted without conforming to English language rules. 
  • The letter ‘c’ is supposed to harden to the /k/ sound when followed by the letter ‘a’ in English words. But what about exceptions like the word facade? Well, in French there is a special character that looks like this: ç. It’s called the cedilla, and it softens the ‘c’ to make the /s/ sound. We have borrowed ‘facade’ from the French language without changing the foreign spelling, so it doesn’t follow English grammar rules.
  • There are several advanced phonograms that have origins in French. Here’s a list from The Logic of English by Denise Eide, Appendix E page 170:
ai/i-a/aisle – plaid
cu/k-kw/biscuit – cuisine
Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Another thing France is famous for is its incredible castles and palaces. Visit this travel website to learn the difference between palaces and castles and to see pictures and a brief history of some of the most beautiful ones. Next, read UEWH pages 222-225 to learn some basic facts about castles. Lastly, watch this video.

Perhaps the most famous French castle of all is the Palace of Versailles, where many French kings and queens used to live. You can visit it virtually here. Read about this palace and the kings who lived there in UEWH pages 312-313.

Activity 2: Read Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections Castle, page 10 and 11, to learn about the weapons used against castles and those used to protect castles. Look for the trebuchet in the photo. Talk about how these weapons would work, what would be effective, and what would not not. Next, build a mini trebuchet with this tutorial

Activity 3: Research + mapping. Using the internet to search for famous French castles.  Here are a few to get you started:

Use Google Earth or Google maps to visit each of these locations. Next, using your laminated map, add a new layer with the locations of the various castles and palaces throughout France. Use different marker colors to identify them and create a key on a separate piece of paper to identify the castles on your map.

(+) Ready for an upgrade? Write a research paper about castles. How do you write a research paper? This video series can be used as a lesson to get started if your child is new to writing research papers. Research papers should be a minimum of five paragraphs. (Older children can be given a word minimum.) Either brainstorm ideas together or select from these suggestions:

  • Famous French castles
  • Choose a specific French castle and research and write about it.
  • Castles turned into… (Research all the things that castles have been turned into like museums, hotels, and schools.)

Activity 4: Read more about castles in Stephan’s Biesty’s Cross-Sections Castle book to learn more about the ins and outs of a castle life. Now, build your own castle. Use the link to give your child ideas, not a blueprint. You can also take inspiration from one of the many castles linked in Activity 1. (This activity can take hours, if not days depending on your materials, so give your child time to make it their own.)

Lesson 5:

Let’s end our week with some fragrant food history!

Activity 1: Read + Discover. The use of herbs in French cooking is well known. Lavender is a unique herb in that every part of the plant—bud, stem, and leaf—can be used in cooking. While the lavender flowers and leaves can be used fresh, the buds and stems can be used dried. Since the lavender flavor intensifies when the herb is dried, the dried buds should be used sparingly.  Read through this post to learn some different uses of lavender in cooking. (source)

Activity 2: Now, let’s bake! Prepare this lemon lavender cookie recipe. (Note: Ours only needed to bake for 9 minutes.) Next, enjoy some cookies with some tea and French poetry

Activity 3: Can you imagine a beautiful, lush purple field of lavender? The south of France is filled with these lavender farms. Watch this video to see the beauty of the lavender fields of Provence. Here are a few interesting facts:

  • Lavender farms and distilleries produce essential oils and scented water.
  • An annual lavender festival takes place in Provence.
  • Visitors from all over the world come to spas, hotels, and farms in the area to enjoy the lavender blossoms.

Activity 4: Make a lavender perfume.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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