France Unit Study: Week 3

French culture has influenced many others with its food, fashion, and more. This week, we will explore some of the most visited places in France, learn about two famous French inventions, and try one of our favorite food groups—French desserts! Download your skills tracker here, and get ready to learn!

What you need:

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

Opptional additional reading:

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.

Napoleon word search:

Build a biome activity:

  • 4 – 2 liter bottles
  • pond water or freshwater aquarium water (tap water cannot be used because it lacks bacteria)
  • aquarium gravel, sand, and/or potting soil
  • aquatic plants (you can also find these at most pet and aquarium stores)

Alternate terrarium activity:

Braille alphabet board:

Hot air balloon STEM activity:

  • empty bottle 
  • balloon 
  • basin or baking dish

Hot air balloon craft:

Fashion design activity:

Tarte tatin 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:

Today, we’ll tackle a world-famous general and emperor who made a big impact, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Activity 1: Napoleon Bonaparte, also known as Napoleon I, is a famous, heroic historical figure in France—even though he was actually Italian. Watch (-) this video or (+) this video and read UEWH, pages 334-335, to learn more about him. (Want to know more? To dig deeper, read our optional additional reading book, History for Kids: The Illustrated Life of Napoleon Bonaparte.) Next, view this map (or print it) and look at the territory he took over. Use it as a prop to demonstrate the expansion of France’s borders. (Here’s one mom’s Lego-inspired lesson.)

Then, print and do this word search themed after Napoleon.

Activity 2: Napoleon I and the Louvre. The Louvre was once home to royalty.  In 1682, the Louvre became home to various art academies, offering regular exhibitions of its members’ works. The National Assembly opened the Louvre as a museum in August 1793 with a collection of 537 paintings, but the museum closed in 1796 because of structural problems with the building. Napoleon reopened the museum and expanded the collection in 1801, and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon (the Napoleon Museum). Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to be in charge of creating a collection of art in the Louvre, and he wanted to create a museum in France with a wonderful collection of art from all around the world. As a result, much of the museum is filled with paintings and artworks looted from Italy, Egypt, and other countries in Europe. He enlarged its collection by bringing art from his military campaigns, private donations, and commissions he made. (source

Take a virtual walking tour of the Louvre here.

Activity 3: Let’s do an artist study on Jacques-Louis David. David was an artist and activist. He supported the Revolution and was an opponent of the monarchy. He met Napoleon as a young general in 1798. Following Napoleon’s self-coronation as emperor in 1804, David became the premier peintre, or the official court painter. Read more about his life here

Here is a famous picture by Jacques-Louis David.

The Coronation of Napoleon is a painting completed in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David, the official painter of Napoleon. The painting has imposing dimensions, as it is almost 33 feet (10 meters) wide by a little over 20 feet (6 meters) tall. The crowning and the coronation took place at Notre-Dame de Paris, a way for Napoleon to make it clear that he was a son of the Revolution. (source)

Visit this website for other famous art pieces depicting Napoleon. 

Activity 4: Narration exercise. After learning about Napoleon Bonaparte and Jacques-Louis David, ask your child to write a narrative paragraph about one of these two figures. Narration is a retelling. The purpose is not simply to summarize or regurgitate facts and figures, but rather to capture what your child thought was important about these people and their stories. If your child is not comfortable writing yet, scribe for them as they narrate orally. 

Note: While this is a writing exercise, it shouldn’t be a Language Arts lesson. The goal of this activity is to focus on ideas, not on spelling and punctuation. You can make a mental note of any grammar errors for your own information for future language arts lessons. 

***For more tips on narration, read this article from our contributor.***

Lesson 2:

There is so much beauty in the natural world in France. Let’s take a closer look at the beauty of the French forests.

Activity 1: In ancient times, forest covered 75% of the surface of Gaul. At the beginning of the 19th century, the coverage rate was down to 15%. Today, thanks to reforestation, it covers about 30% of the land.

The forests of France play an important role in the country and in surrounding nations. (source) Here are some of the things it accomplishes:

  • It is vital for the balance of the natural environment.
  • It protects the soil from erosion. The roots of the trees hold the earth, fix the sand, and prevent the soil from becoming bare due to the action of the rain and the wind. Bare, gullied soil is no longer fertile.
  • It cleans the air by the quantity of oxygen they release. By renewing the atmosphere, trees are the best protectors of our health. It is estimated that each year, the French forest absorbs 50 million tons of CO2.
  • It affects the climate. Trees draw a large quantity of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere in water vapor, which contributes to the formation of clouds.
  • It is home to a whole world of animals, including mammals (rabbits, foxes, field mice, deer, wild boars, etc.), birds (robins, warblers, owls, etc.), and countless insects.

Take a look at the top 10 forests in France according to this article.

Watch this video to learn more about the challenges of growing and maintaining forests in France.

Let’s do a critical thinking exercise. After watching the video, discuss the differences of opinion. What do the forest agencies and conservationists want and why? What do some city officials in Paris want and why? Can you understand the arguments made on both sides? 

Activity 2: Did you know that trees can talk? Scientists have discovered that trees warn each other of danger and share nutrients. It seems like trees in the forest communicate through their root system. This means that they are cooperators. The communication appears to happen through the release of hormones and the release of chemicals. Read the book Listen to the Language of Trees: A story of how forests communicate underground. Next, watch this video to learn about this unique communication process. 

(+) Want to learn more? Watch this TED talk by ecologist Suzanne Simard, or click here for more on this topic.

Activity 3: Draw a forest picture that displays both what goes on above and below the soil. Look at this picture to see the top and bottom of a tree. Imagine several trees next to each other. The root systems would be completely intertwined! Can you illustrate this in your picture?

(-) Want to try a simpler craft? Here are some sample pictures drawn by one class learning about root systems to inspire your child’s drawing.

Activity 4: There is a delicate balance that is maintained in a healthy ecosystem. Trees, plants, air, water, and soil all work together. We likely can’t plant a tree today (but go for it, if you can!), but hopefully this hands-on planting project will help make this lesson come to live. Let’s create a biome in a bottle to demonstrate the importance of balance and the need to take care of our natural resources. Alternatively, you can also make a terrarium in a glass jar like this one.

Field trip idea: Do you live near a forest? Take a hike or organize a field trip to a local national park. Some parks even offer guided tours to point out various aspects of the biome.

Lesson 3:

There are many famous French inventions that we benefit from today. These extend into the arts, science, math and even language. We can thank the French for the stethoscope, the hot air balloon, the parachute, the Braille alphabet, the rabies vaccine, the sewing machine, the bikini, cinema, and more! Let’s take a closer look at two of these inventions today.

Activity 1: Louis Braille (1809-1852) was the inventor of “Braille Code,” the writing and reading system used by blind or sight-impaired people. The code consists of little raised dots that represent letters. As a young boy, Braille had lost his eyesight. As an adult, he experimented and improved his writing system and later became a teacher, musician, and researcher. Read Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant to learn more about this great man. 

Activity 2: Using LEGO, create a Braille alphabet board. (If you don’t have LEGO, you could use these gem stickers to create your board.) Refer to the last page of the book Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille to see the Braille alphabet. (You could also print this chart.) Set up a LEGO board with masking tape to create the alphabet frame. The frame should be six dots for each letter. Label the masking tape from A-Z. It should look like this:

Ask your child to use LEGO pieces or stickers to create the Braille alphabet. They can also write their names in Braille using LEGOs or stickers. Continue the play by writing new words and using the alphabet chart to decipher the word.

Activity 3: Joseph-Michel Montgolfier (1740-1810) and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (1745-1799), also known as the “Montgolfier Brothers,” were the first to develop and fly a hot air balloon over Paris in 1783. Let’s learn how a hot air balloon works here. Next, reenact the principles of a hot air balloon with this STEM project. Now, make your own version of a hot air balloon with this craft

Lesson 4:

Another thing France is famous for? Its fashion! Let’s learn a bit more about the history of haute couture in France.

Activity 1: Read the book Along Came Coco. (Alternatively you can read Little People Big Dreams Coco Chanel or listen to this read aloud of Little People Big Dreams – Coco Chanel.) Coco Chanel (1883-1971) is regarded as one of the most famous fashion designers not only in France but in all the world. She is best known for her feminine-yet-comfortable dresses and costumes. She even created a perfume, called Chanel No 5. Watch this video to learn more about her life.

Activity 2: Begin by watching one of these two videos to introduce the fashion designers profession. This video is a little simpler, or you can watch this video for more.

Next, have your child draw or sketch out an outfit. Your child can design a superhero custom, a fancy outfit, a sports uniform, or any other garment they imagine.

If you purchased the Designed By You Fashion Studio Kit, give it to your child to help their designs come to life.

Lesson 5:

We’ll end our week with a worldwide favorite part of French culture—the pastries!

Activity 1: Have you ever walked into a French patisserie? The smell of butter and sugar is mouth-watering. There are so many amazing desserts to choose from, it might be hard to choose just one! Today, let’s look at the history of one dessert in particular. The tarte tatin is a famous French upside-down apple tart made by covering the bottom of a shallow baking dish with butter and sugar, then sliced apples, and finally a pastry crust.  While baking, the sugar and butter create a delicious caramel that becomes the topping when the tart is inverted onto a serving plate. (source)

Like many great dishes, the tarte tatin is said to have been born out of culinary clumsiness. The legend goes that it has its origins in the kitchens of a railway hotel owned by two sisters in the town of Lamotte-Beuvron, just south of Orléans in north-central France. The older sister, Stéphanie, who was in charge of the food (and perhaps a little flustered by the orders coming in from the mob of guests), supposedly made a happy mistake by shoving a tart into the oven upside down (or possibly without its pastry base, depending on which account you believe). She decided to make the best of a bad job and serve it anyway. The accidental dessert was a hit, and a classic was born. (source

Now, it’s your turn to prepare your own tarte tatin! Here’s a simple recipe by a French blogger to try. 

Activity 2: France’s official national fruit is the pear. The country is a major agricultural producer that grows 2.75 million tons of fruit per year. The main fruits grown in France are apples (58%), melons (10%), peaches and nectarines (10%), apricots (5%), and kiwifruits (5%), alongside smaller volumes of plums, strawberries, grapes, walnuts, and cherries. (source

Although the French are famous for their pastries, the typical French family doesn’t indulge in these desserts daily. Rather, fruit often serves as their dessert at home. It might be accompanied by cheese or chocolate. Want to try it yourself? This article breaks down the seven traditional courses of a classic French meal.

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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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