Reading program in Whitehorse links kids with their heritage

A reading program offered by the Association Franco-Yukonnaise in Whitehorse helps children from French speaking families stay fluent in the language.
The program offered by the Association Franco-Yukonnaise helps kids from French speaking families stay connected to their language. (CBC)

A reading program in Whitehorse is reaching to French-speaking families.

The program is called Contes sur roues. It's a literacy program offered for free to families through the Association Franco-Yukonnaise . 

The idea is to help kids learn French.

One of adults helping them is Jean Chalifour, known to the children as Monsieur Jean. The kids gather around him - sometimes as many as a dozen - as he works with puzzles, stories and costumes and everything is in French.

"Sometimes I can spend one hour and a half reading and they don't move. They move a little bit but not much and some other times," he shrugs.  "It's not going, it's not easy."

Children are often from bilingual families

The coordinator of the reading program, Patricia Brennan, says some of the children are from families where one parent speaks French and the other, another language, often English.

"We developed the resource that we now have at LAFY  ( Association Franco-Yukonnaise ), that we now have with book bags and games and costumes," Brennan says. 

"The idea behind that is to also to give the tips to the parents in order to make French, like make a favourable environment for French to be used back and forth," she says.

One of the parents who brings her children, Marie-Pierre Vallee, appreciates the program.

"It's so easy to have books in English and games and everything in English and it's good that we have something in French and it's a Francophone that gives it to the kids so they can practice their French in a different way with different people because if it's not like that, it's just going to be in English all the time," Vallee says.

Program helps fill in for far-away extended families

She also appreciates Monsieur Jean. Her kids don't often see their extended family.

Jean Chalifour fills in as a grandfather figure for children who are far from their extended families. (CBC)

"He's having like a grand parent figure for the kids, their grandparents are in Quebec right now, and he's playing with them a lot," Vallee says.Chalifour too is far from his grandchildren in Quebec. For him this is fun, although he never imagined it's what he would be doing after retirement. 

Chalifour spent his career working as a consultant. He says this is more rewarding. 

"When I was building business cases and things like that often you know, it wasn't used and here I have the impression that we are useful to the community," he says.