French immersion preschool aims to give educational edge

La Petite Ecole will teach the foreign language to preschool-age children.
Sunday, March 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:45 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Parents and young children in Columbia will soon have the opportunity to expose themselves to a foreign language by means of a French immersion preschool scheduled to start in August.

The private preschool, called La Petite Ecole, is Columbia’s first foreign language preschool and is offered to 3- to 5-year-old children.

Director Joëlle Quoirin, who has two preschool age children, thinks La Petite Ecole is a chance for young children to have exposure to another language while also developing a different part of their brains.

“Learning a language at a young age develops neurological pathways that are not stimulated any other way,” she said. “It helps them to be abstract thinkers and problem solvers. For example, bilingual children know that the word book is just one of the many labels for that certain object.”

On Saturday, La Petite Ecole, located in Quoirin’s house on Marble Cedars Drive, opened its doors to parents and prospective students. Families had the opportunity to look at the classroom and talk with the director.

“I’m intrigued how a second language can develop the brain,” parent Brenda Haynes said. “Is it something that will improve my child’s ability to think and reason; it’s something that will expand their educational growth.”

Julia Sauter came to the open house with her daughter. She said being bilingual is a huge advantage for a child.

Quoirin agrees.

“If a child is exposed to a different language at an early age, the brain will store that information the same place it stores their first language,” Quoirin said.

Quoirin has 11 years of experience teaching Spanish and French to a wide range of age groups. Before moving to Columbia, Quoirin taught at another foreign language preschool in Charlottesville, Va., the school on which La Petite Ecole is modeled.

“I decided to start this program because there is nothing like this here in Columbia,” Quoirin said. “This is a well-educated community, and I think it will work here.”

La Petite Ecole will teach art and music, language specific courses, literacy and math development, and other various lessons, such as nature exploration.

Parents don’t need prior knowledge of French to have their children enrolled and are welcome to help with the teaching and administration of the school.

Quoirin wanted to teach French because, unlike Spanish, it is a direct descendent of modern English and is spoken on every continent. She remains open, however, to the possibility of offering Spanish in the future. She is also considering having a French class for alumni of La Petite Ecole to maintain the children’s language skills.

La Petite Ecole is accepting applications for the 2005-06 school year. The cost of tuition is $3,500 per year.

For more information, go to or call the school at 447-3950.

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