Growing up all over again with French nursery rhymes or “comptines”

Bringing up kids in France, having grown up in the UK, is a real voyage of discovery. I’ve spent a good few years now getting to know this country’s rules, values and traditions, but now that Super PG has started school, it feels like I’m on a new journey that most of the other local parents – or my friends who are now parents in England – don’t experience. It can feel a little isolating sometimes, but it’s mostly interesting and often exciting.

On the one hand I’m learning what it’s like to put a child through school in France and figuring out how to be a good parent for Super PG and the “maîtresse” or teacher (as are many of the other French parents are who are doing it for the first time). This involves a terribly broad spectrum of tasks. From basic stuff like getting him through the door fully clothed and in one piece by 8.45am, to other things that require French language skills and a good memory (not sure which one is worse out of those two).

These include: making sure we read and return Super PG’s library book each Thursday in its little brightly-coloured cloth bag; ensuring that we check his school bag each day for his hand-made (out of wallpaper and staples) “pochette liaison école-famille” (school-family communication wallet), which contains school administration forms that need filling in, signing and returning; and discussing whatever the issue of the moment is with the teacher or school.

Pochette liaison école-famille
Pochette liaison école-famille

On top of this I’m also playing a game of catch-up, and in many ways it feels like I’m growing up all over again. I’m finding out about things that I didn’t learn when I was a child, because I wasn’t one here myself – from how the school system works to recommended stories or “histoires” and the best-loved nursery rhymes or “comptines”.

One nursery rhyme that Super PG has started singing around the house is a gorgeous little song that is accompanied by equally adorable hand movements. It is called “Tourne Tourne Petit Moulin” (Turn Turn Little Windmill). He sings and hums it all the time.

It’s so pretty that even when it’s being shouted at the dinner table with hand movements, instead of those little hands putting food in his mouth, it’s still actually quite nice.

For a few minutes anyway.

*rolls eyes*

Here is a little film of the song and lyrics (in English and French) to “Tourne Tourne Petit Moulin” or “Turn Turn Little Windmill”:

French Lyrics

Tourne, tourne petit moulin,
Tapent, tapent petites mains,
Vole, vole petit oiseau,
Nage, nage poisson dans l’eau.

Petit moulin a bien tourné,
Petites mains ont bien frappé,
Petit oiseau a bien volé,
Petit poisson a bien nagé.

English Lyrics

Turn, turn little windmill,
Clap, clap little hands,
Fly, fly little bird,
Swim, swim fish in the water.

Little windmill turned well,
Little hands clapped well,
Little bird flew well,
Little fish swam well.


For the first line, Super PG makes rolls his hands around each other in the air, like a wheel turning; for the second he claps his hands; for the third he puts his hands together to make a bird’s wings (which then flap); and for the last he puts the palms of his hands together and then makes them move like a fish in the water.

I think it’s almost impossible to read those actions and not do them, even if you’re getting on a bit like me! Are you doing it? Go on! 😉

Thanks for reading!



2 thoughts on “Growing up all over again with French nursery rhymes or “comptines”

    1. Helloo! Let me know how you get on & if your Super PF loves it too. I realise in the song that she says ‘frappent’, but Super PG’s version is ‘tapent’…it doesn’t really matter though as Super H says they’re pretty much the same for clapping anyway. xx


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