Becoming a cycling county is high on the agenda of the Yorkshire’s Tour de France chiefs, but using the race to build the French connection in schools could be a legacy in itself.
Almost 270 primary schools in the region have accessed free learning resources that bring a two-wheeled teddy into teaching in a bid to help children learn basic French in time for Le Tour.
Camembear, a beret-clad cycling teddy bear, has been used by teachers to take three to seven-year-olds on educational journeys along the Tour de France routes, teaching children about French culture, language and the Tour itself.
The teaching ted is the brainchild of Wetherby mum-of-three Leanne Jefferson, who left her job of 10 years teaching French and German in a Harrogate secondary school to help bring languages to children at an earlier age.
The 43-year-old said: “It’s leaving that legacy. It isn’t just about cycling but we have also got that educational legacy as well.
“When the riders pass through Yorkshire the children can even cheer them on in French.”
The Camembear Tour de France resources are endorsed by tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire and the regional legacy programme Cycle Yorkshire, which released its own educational pack featuring some of Leanne’s work last year.
Her free Camembear kit, designed by Tutor2u, involves a series of games, songs and exercises driven through a downloadable interactive Powerpoint map.
It is designed to be simple and interactive enough for a non-specialist language teacher to use.
“I’ve always been a firm believer it should be embedded in the curriculum. French should compliment what they already do,” Leanne said.
“This is a great opportunity. It would be a shame not to use the Tour de France to really engage children in learning French.”
Frustrated by the lack of early years foreign language tutoring in England, Leanne researched how children learned abroad while testing methods at local schools and nurseries.
During her research she found that children engaged better through a central character and invented Camembear by dressing her son Freddie’s favourite teddy in French attire.
The Camembear educational programme was devised in 2007 and refined and released in December 2012 as a paid-for tool for Key Stage One children learning in schools and nurseries.
Nearly 50 schools in the UK now use a bear puppet, a range of colourful teaching resources and games to introduce French to children but the special Tour edition of resources are free.
She added: “It’s really about bringing back the fun to learning languages.
“They are able to pick it up and they retain it, they are at an age where they are more receptive and will be enthused to carry it through.”
Camembear is designed to give children a head start, given that primary schools must teach early years foreign languages to children aged seven from September.
Graham Titchener, regional director of Cycle Yorkshire, said: “Leanne’s drive and ambition for every child to speak French is laudable.
“It ties with cycling and it’s for the betterment of the wider region, we would always support anyone that wants to do good in Yorkshire.”
Visit www.headstartlanguages.co.uk for more on Camembear.