Le Petit Jardin - About Us
Le Petit Jardin - French Immersion for Toddlers & Children
About Us
Le Petit Jardin is a unique preschool program that combines loving childcare with daily experiences in an around the French and Francophone cultures. Children are introduced to sounds and words of the French language through songs, nursery rhymes, stories and general everyday interactions.
As children are exceptional language learners by nature, this total-immersion environment enables them to quickly become familiar with French and to begin to know how to use it for themselves.

Our days here at preschool are rooted in the idea that a child learns through play and exploration! We lead children each day through a fun variety of arts and crafts, story time and library visits (Thursdays), puppet play, classical dance (ballet - Tuesdays/Wednesdays), cooking (Mondays/Wednesdays), science experiments, Music (Fridays) outdoor play and free play time. These experiences will be guided completely in French to familiarize children with numbers, letters, colors, shapes and other early vocabulary. Popular childhood songs and nursery rhymes from France will soon become some of your child's favorites and hopefully they will teach them to you at home!
Children explore the language through the songs, games and holiday celebrations of France as well as other Francophone communities. Simple introduction to the French Islands, Ivory Coast, and Quebec will help to give a broader cultural connection to the French language as well as to the wide world we live in.

Teacher Ambi
Amber Smith-Lopata is Founder, Director and  Lead Teacher at Le Petit Jardin. Outside of being a mother of three young boys, her experiences include many years as an au-pair, chaperone and board member for F.A.C.E. (French American Cultural  Exchange Program), and primary grades teacher's assistant. She holds a bachelor's degree in French and Francophone Studies from San Diego State University and an Early Childhood Education Administartive Certificate from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, CA. She is credentialed by The State of California in Early Childhood Ed. She spends time each year in France with her native French husband and three sons. 
"Not only is French one of the most beautiful romantic languages in the world, but the culture surrounding the language, people and traditions of France is something to truly fall in love with. I am honored to help inspire this love for another culture and language in the little hearts and minds of our students and their families!"
                                                                                                   -Amber Smith-Lopata
Amber is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.
Le Petit Jardin is a licensed child care facility.
Lic # 214005353

Teacher Anne
Piaf Classe - Lead
Anne DeSouza comes to us from Saint Malo, France. She began caring for newborns at age fifteen alongside her mother who worked in a post-partum rehabilitation retreat form new moms and babies in northern France. Anne headed to Paris as a young adult to obtain her Director and Audio-Visual Specialist Certificate and enjoyed a few years working behind the TV camera! In that time she met her now husband – an American working in Paris - and the two were inseparable and decided to settle in California. Upon arriving here in 2008, Anne picked-up where she left off in her work of caring for young children! Anne has been a full-time nanny, has worked at the Lycée Français La Pérouse and now holds her certificate in Early Childhood Education from College of Marin!  Anne has a unique gift for storytelling in a way that effectively engages young children. Her sense of humor and often “silly” disposition make her the ideal Lead teacher for our littlest learners, “Les Piafs”! Anne has been a part of LPJ since 2008 when she became our first Mommy & Me (side by side French class) Teacher and was the first Interactive French Story Teller for LPJ at San Anselmo and Tiburon Libraries! She continues to live ‘happily ever after’ in Fairfax with her American husband and is “maman” to a beautiful and busy 3year-old girl.

Anne is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross. 

Teacher Candice
Piaf Classe
Candice is a teacher is our Piaf class! She has spent the majority of her life caring for others and is naturally gifted at it! She grew up in Zululand, South Africa, on the tea farm her that father tended. It was in a remote location and the nearest big town was quite far away, so she learned to thoroughly care for everything and everyone around her.  Her mother and her grandmother were both very advanced and talented seamstresses and so Candice also inherited that skill from a very young age.  “Ever since I was 5 years old I wanted to be a dress designer,” she has said. After Candice arrived in California as an au-pair in 1997, she went onto study at the Art Institute of San Francisco, “I sort of lost that dream (while there) … I found I wasn’t that competitive (enough for it), so I figured maybe I’d be better as a teacher.” Shortly after becoming a mother she opened her own  family daycare, The Tot School of San Anselmo. Candice also continued her education and received her ECE Certificate from the College of Marin. After 13 successful years of caring for children in her own home, Candice decided to close The Tot School and open a new business that would allow her to diversify her time between her two beloved talents – teaching and sewing! When Candice isn’t teaching little ones at LPJ you will find her designing and teaching creative-sewing classes for children of all ages and skill levels at The Lost Art Sewing School!.Her many talents shine bright at our preschool and are appreciated and admired by all children and parents alike!

 For information about the sewing school, visit lostartsewingschool.com
Candice is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.


Teacher Chantal
Hiboux Classe - Lead
Chantal grew up in the north -east of France, in a region called Lorraine . Her father is German and mother is French so she grew up in a multi-cultural setting which probably seeded the desire to travel .Chantal has lived in Germany, France , England , Canada and now California!  Chantal did not start out on the path to teaching originally, but she says, “as it runs in the family, …this (profession) was pretty inevitable!” She first completed a Master's in Chemistry in Lyon and worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a scientist. She quickly realized that her favorite part of this job was to train the undergrad students.
After becoming a mother Chantal went back to university in Marseille and completed a Master's in early and primary education along with full teacher training and went on to teach young students in Cannes. Now here in California Chantal leads the “hiboux” (ages 3.5 – 5) at Le Petit Jardin. She is the curriculum creator for her class and likes to achieve learning goals hands on cooking and science! Her teaching philosophy: “Let students explore and use cross learning (mix several subjects in one activity) as much as possible. I feel very privileged to work with children and watch them learn day after day. Chantal resides in Tiburon with her husband and two young sons.
Chantal is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.

Teacher Laurence
Hiboux Classe - Lead

Laurence was born and raised in France. She moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 after graduating from Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland. She now lives in Mill Valley with her husband and their three children (ages 19, 21 and 22).
While raising a bilingual family (her husband is American), Laurence went back to school to study early childhood education and started working in preschool at the Lycée Français de San Francisco in 2002. Her experience includes teaching at the Lycée Français de San Francisco in elementary as an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher, Kindergarten and elementary teacher at EFBA (French after school program) since 2010, private tutoring since 2006, home schooling and more recently AP French test prep.  As a mother she helped her children navigate both the French and the American school systems as well as the application process to universities. Laurence has always had a passion for children. She believes children learn French if they love it. That love starts in a fun, engaging and nurturing environment.

Teacher Isabelle - Lead
Hiboux Classe
French native Isabelle is the mother of two teenage girls and lives in the East bay.
She holds a French Certificate of Auxiliary Nurse, and trained in Pediatric (IUC), Preschools, and Maternity where she worked full time in Paris in Maternity, in the delivery room and maternity ward, helping with babies’ first signs of life, and taking care of babies and new moms.

Isabelle also worked full time in a “Creche”, (Infant-Toddler preschool program in France) with children from 1 month to 4 years old.

Since 2001, Isabelle devoted her time to raising her 2 daughters, as a stay at home mom and volunteering many hours at their French school. Recently, after sending both daughters off to high school, she resolved to go back to school and is currently finishing her ECE Certificate at College of Marin.  As a self-taught artist Isabelle also runs her own art business and recently received her certification as a NIA Dance Instructor! “Working at LPJ Preschool is fulfilling”, she says. “It’s a place where I can combine my many years of experience caring for infants and young children with my love for art and creative movement!” She adores leading children through their own creative art processes. You can learn more about her polymer clay designs at IsabelleClayArt.com   
Isabelle is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.

Teacher Ivatchka - Aide
Hiboux Classe

Teacher Pascale
Art - Afternoon Play

Pascale was born and raised in Paris and moved to Marin in 1993. As a  mixed-media artist and a travel photographer, she has worked for the George Lucas company ILM and has been a substitute teacher and Art teacher at the Lycee Francais La Pérouse, where her two sons studied. While at Lycée she worked with children of many different ages, with a preference for the preschoolers, and so she attended College of Marin to obtain her ECE Certificate.  Now she says, “I enjoy very much being in the smaller and intimate structure of "Le petit Jardin", and being part of its friendly staff.” Pascale’s favorite activities are: singing with Marin Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Marin Oratorio at College of Marin, swimming, and doing TaiChi.

She additional offers private art lessons in French in her private studio in San Rafael, as well as summer and winter break camps and baking classes for children of all ages.

Her latest series of Venice photos at: http://www.herys.net/Pascale/Ballade_a_Venise.html#16
Pascale is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.  

Teacher Elaine
Ballet & Movement
Elaine has performed with professional ballet companies all over the globe. While performing with the Dutch National Ballet and living in Europe, she met her French husband! She also went on to get her fashion design degree in Paris and now resides in San Anselmo, CA with her husband and two young sons. When she isn't teaching LPJ student s and other youngsters to dance, she  designs clothing for major brands as she also continues to perform with local dance and theatre companies.
As ballet is rooted and traditionally instructed in French, our young dancers delight in music and movement while becoming familiar with the corresponding French vocabulary that comes with this classical art form. Students also learn nursery rhymes and traditional French children's songs along with their dance steps!

Ms. Christi
Office Administrator & Co-Director
“I was born in Memphis, TN and raised in Arlington, TX so am a Southern (girl) at heart!”, She says. This is the best way to sum up Ms. Christi’s sweet and relaxed demeanor when she stands in as interim director or offers substitute classroom hours with the children at LPJ! Christi received a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of North Texas. She has lived in the Bay Area since 2002 when she moved here to be an au pair. She continued in the ECE environment as she went onto begin managing a preschool in 2004 when she was offered an Assistant Director position at the Golden Gate Academy in Mill Valley. (GGA was the lab-preschool for the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary ECE graduate students.) Through her time there she was able to pursue a Masters degree in Education Leadership with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education and in 2006 was promoted to Director of the school until 2014 when she elected to step back and allow more time for her family. Christi was also an Adjunct Professor at GGBTS and taught many of the Early Childhood Education graduate-level courses for the ECE program there while simultaneously running the lab-preschool. Christi just welcomed her fist baby in October 2016 and is living a beautiful, blessed life in San Francisco with her new daughter and hubby and enjoys helping out Mrs. Ambi in LPJ office when needed!
Christi is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross.

Ms. Kati
Office Administrator 
Kati is a regular at LPJ where she puts to good use her experiences in French language studies, Art History, world travels and motherhood in our vibrant school and office environments. Her previous years spent as an administrator for the education and non-profit world make her a very valuable player for us on the organization side!

Kati is CPR and First Aid certified by the American Red Cross. She is also a parent to two young daughters who have both attended Le Petit Jardin.
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