Make a city plan like L’Enfant

Make a city plan like L’Enfant

Have you ever thought about the fact that someone had to design and plan the cities where we live? In this post, we share with you a little history of the designer of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. His name? Pierre Charles L’Enfant.

pierre l'enfant statue in u.s. capitol building

We wish we could have found a great picture book for children to learn about L’Enfant (like the one we found about Jean-Jacques Audubon), but as we could not find one, this post is full of pictures and little snippets that tell the story of the intriguing life of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman with a great love of America.

After learning a little about L’Enfant, we’ll show you a fun art project to plan your own imaginary city, using L’Enfant’s methods. You can even learn some French city words, with our free chart, as a nod to L’Enfant’s native language.

And, if you are up for an adventure, we suggest some places in the D.C. area you can visit which honor the designer of our nation’s capital – scroll to the bottom of this post to find these fun places.

scott berg grand avenues

A few little notes… This post was inspired by reading Grand Avenues by Scott W. Berg – it’s a history book, but it is written like an enthralling novel. I would recommend it to adults reading this post, especially those with a penchant for French and a love for Washington D.C. For children, or those wanting a quick snapshot, our post should be a nice place to start. Pictures in this post are mostly public domain images. In many cases, clicking on the images will lead to the source of the photos if you want to dive deeper. Okay, let’s learn about L’Enfant…

Who was Pierre Charles L’Enfant?

pierre charles l'enfant

Major Peter Charles L’Enfant, redrawn from woodcut (Library of Congress)

Pierre L’Enfant was born in France in 1754.  His father was employed by King Louis XV as a royal artist. Pierre L’Enfant studied at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.  One of his contemporaries was Jacques-Louis David, who became a famous artist.

academie royale de peinture et sculpture

Vue perspective du Sallon de l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture au Louvre (1778)

l'enfant painting

Painting by L’Enfant of West Point, 1782 (Museum of the American Revolution)

Pierre L’Enfant’s family was close with the famous playwright Beaumarchais (author of plays such as The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro). Beaumarchais encouraged a group of young men at the time to travel to America to help to fight against the English in the American Revolution. L’Enfant did not have military training, but he wanted to come to America to join in the fight for American independence.

Soon after his arrival in America, L’Enfant met George Washington. George Washington was impressed with L’Enfant, especially with his artistic abilities.  L’Enfant was asked to draw a military manual for General Baron von Steuben. L’Enfant was also asked to create the medallions for the Society of the Cincinnati. Later, L’Enfant took on a bigger project, redesigning Federal Hall in New York City.

stueben manual l'enfant

L’Enfant’s drawing for Steuben’s military manual (Muesuem of the American Revolution)

When the Revolutionary War had been won and it was decided that the new country should also have a new capital city, L’Enfant was determined to be the designer of this great city. George Washington thought that L’Enfant was the one who had the genius for this job.

“Since my first knowledge of [L’Enfant’s] abilities in the line of his profession, I have received him not only as a scientific man, but one who added considerable taste to his professional knowledge; and that, for such employment as he is now engaged in, for projecting public works, and carrying them into effect, he was better qualified than any one who had come within my knowledge in this country, or indeed in any other…”

(Letter from George Washington to David Stuart, as quoted in Grand Avenues, pages 136-137)

L’Enfant explored and surveyed the land that would become Washington, District of Columbia. Then L’Enfant meticulously designed a grand city to be built there. At the time, Georgetown was a little village and most of the area that would become Washington D.C. was farmland and forest.

washington d.c. farmland

Unknown author – Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

From his tireless study of the land, his vast imagination, and artistic talent, L’Enfant created a plan for the new capital city. He created his plan on 2 pieces of handmade paper (joined together to be 2 feet by 3 feet), using pencil and watercolor for the images, and many styles of calligraphy for the descriptions.

enfant plan for dc

L’Enfants hand drawn plan for Washington, D.C. (public domain image)

L’Enfant had a fiery personality, however, and sometimes offended the other people working in government at the time. Interestingly, the plan that became engraved and publicized had the name of one of L’Enfant’s helpers, Ellicott, who had copied and slightly modified L’Enfant’s plan. L’Enfant was enraged that after all of his hard work, his name was not the one on the published plan. Due to disagreements and financial difficulties, the plan for D.C. was slow to become a reality.

About 100 years went by without much progress on the grand plans for Washington, D.C., then L’Enfant’s original plans were unearthed by Frederick Olmsted, Jr., a highly acclaimed architect.  The McMillan Commission then attempted to more fully understand L’Enfant’s plans. The commissioners even traveled to Paris to see where L’Enfant grew up and what might have inspired his plans.

Finally, L’Enfant’s plans for a grand city for our nation’s capital began to be realized.

mcmillan plan

The McMillan Plan for the National Mall

Perhaps it is because of L’Enfant’s original plans and the McMillan Commission’s work in carrying out his plans that Paris and Washington D.C. have some similarities, among them, grand diagonal avenues, long grassy esplanades, French Second Empire and Beaux-Arts style buildings, and ornate bridges. Let’s take a look…

paris map

Map of Paris in 1774

enfant plan for dc

L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C.

Paris - Champ de Mars

D.C. - The National Mall

Paris - Opéra Garnier

D.C. - Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Paris - Pont Alexandre III

D.C. - Arlington Memorial Bridge

Photo by Tim Evanson from Washington, D.C., United States of America

Ready to plan your own city?

L’Enfant used large pieces of handmade paper for his plan. For your plan, you will need large pieces of watercolor paper, watercolors, paint brushes, and pencils and/or pens.


L’Enfant spent a great deal of time exploring the land on which he planned our nation’s capital, deciding, for example, what buildings would look best on hills and what areas should be near water. To add even more fun to your imaginary city plan, it could be fun to spend time wandering in a country or farm area, and imagine how that piece of land could be turned into a city or town.

Once you have some ideas, start to sketch them out on your paper with pencil. Label your map in pen or pencil and add some watercolor (perhaps blue for rivers, green for parks, etc.). You could also add explanations about your map, using pen or pencil, or even try calligraphy as L’Enfant did. Decide on a name for your city, and give your map a fancy title.

If you are interested in learning French while making the city, feel free to print a copy of our French City Word Chart. Though L’Enfant made his map with English labels, it could be fun to label your map in French, L’Enfant’s native language.

If you need help with pronunciation of these city words, you could try Narakeet. Simply select French as the language, type the French word, and listen to the pronunciation.


French city words

Ready for a L’Enfant in D.C. fieldtrip?

L’Enfant was at first not honored for his great work in designing our nations capital, but now we can find a number of places around Washington, D.C. that remind us of L’Enfant’s contribution to our country. Let’s explore…

L'Enfant Plaza

L'Enfant Plaza with metro and train stops

l'enfant statue u.s. capitol

Statue of L'Enfant in the United States Capitol Building

The statue of L’Enfant in the Capitol is quite new, installed in 2022. Watch a video of the instatlation. The statue is tucked in a quiet alcove… a big thank you to our wonderful tour guide who took the time to show us this statue, though it was not part of the standard Capitol tour.

L'Enfant's tomb in Arlington National Cemetery

L’Enfant’s remains were transferred to Arlington National Cemetery about a century after his death. His tomb overlooks the capital city he designed.

Freedom Plaza in D.C.

At Freedom plaza one can walk on a stone inlay that depicts a portion of L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C. (photo from wikimedia)

Is it possible to see the original plan created by L’Enfant? Unfortunately not. We read in Grand Avenues that “The only known copy of a plan for the federal city in L’Enfant’s own hand to survive into the twenty-first century rests in a refrigerated chamber in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, where it is off limits to the public because of its brittle condition and the extreme fading of its pencil lines” (Grand Avenues, pages 185-186).

In addition to the places which specifically honor L’Enfant, you could walk in L’Enfant’s footsteps by visiting Mount Vernon (where L’Enfant met with George Washington to talk about his city plans) and Georgetown (where L’Enfant stayed while exploring the land that would become Washington, D.C.).

If you are interested in seeing the artwork of L’Enfant’s contemporaries, who were also gifted artists, consider a visit to the National Gallery of Art, looking for the works of Jacques-Louis David and John Trumbull.

We hope you have enjoyed learning about Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and creating and exploring on your own!

If you love learning and creating, consider subscribing to our email updates. Simply click here to subscribe. At, we post learning ideas and recipes, and have a penchant for all things French.

Bonne journée! Have a great day!

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Paris Picture Books  – a Fun way to learn French

Paris Picture Books – a Fun way to learn French

We love learning through picture books!  Both young children and older children can benefit from reading picture books. In this post we have fun crafts and learning activities for you to learn French while enjoying children’s picture books set in Paris:  The Red Balloon, Madeline, and Kiki and Coco in Paris. There are activities suitable for a variety of age levels and language learning levels.

To get all of the FREE French learning printables in this post, click here.

The Red Balloon

red balloon

We’ve been reading The Red Balloon lately, and our 4-year-old just asked today if we could meet “that little boy in Paris who goes to school” with his balloon.  So cute!  We had to explain that the story is quite old, and the boy is probably the age of a grandpa right now.

There is definitely something endearing about this story!

I had to explain to my children that Paris looks quite different today.  These photos were taken not too long after World War II when Paris had been through quite a difficult time. For a book with modern images of Paris, try Kiki and Coco (at the end of this post).


The Red Balloon Craft – Make a Flying with Balloons Picture

Reading The Red Balloon provides a great opportunity to talk with children about the fact that what they see in a photograph (or in a video) might not actually be real.  This art project allows children to make a photo that makes it seem like they are floating over Paris with a bunch of balloons.  Simply follow the directions in the FREE printable to make your own picture.  The printable has a photo of the Paris sky and balloons.  You may take a photo of your child on tippy toes, pretending to hold balloons, or use one of the provided images,

The Red Balloon craft idea

The Red Balloon French Activity – Find French in the Photos

Red Ballon Vocabulary Activities

Looking closely at the photos in The Red Balloon, you can find so many French words. Download our FREE printable to learn the meanings of the words and find the words in the story photos. Then try to match the words to the provided images in our word matching activity.  Have fun!



This classic book full of rhymes, beautiful illustrations, and sweet lessons might just be one to add to your home library. We kept checking out a copy from the library over the years, and finally decided one should be on our bookshelf too.

Madeline also subtly teaches about Paris through its memorable illustrations.


Madeline Craft – Make a House and Dolls

madeline house
madeline house

We made this house several years ago, but our daughters still talk about how much fun they had making it and playing with it.  We made the house out of a large printer paper box, used hot glue to attach the roof and chimneys, then painted it with acrylic paint.  While some of the details of the house might be best done by an adult or an older child, we found that painting the vines was especially fun for younger children (and though not pictured here, we let our youngest paint the sides of the house however she wanted to while we worked on the details of the front).

We used small wooden peg dolls to make Madeline and her friends (only 2 of the 12 pictured here).  We painted them with yellow acrylic paint and cut felt circles to make their hats.  For tall Miss Clavel, we used a wooden round clothes pin, and painted it blue.  

Madeline French Activity – Paris Landmarks

madeline paris landmarks

Download our FREE printable Paris map activity to learn where the many landmarks pictured in Madeline actually are on a map.

You may also like to try this speaking and writing activity connected with the Madeline story. Learn and practice questions like, “How are you?”  “Where do you live?” and “What do you love?” If you are brand new to French, consider entering the French text on the worksheet into  Narakeet (this turns text into audio, just select French as the language). Need to look up the French words for things you love?  Try this online dictionary: ReversoDictionary.

madline speaking activity

Kiki and Coco in Paris

kiki and coco  in paris

Kiki and Coco in Paris could be called a modern day Red Balloon story. Wonderful photographs of Paris the tell the story of a girl and her doll, rather than a boy and his balloon.  It’s adorable, and book to be read many times over, imagining Kiki’s fun trip to Paris with her doll, Coco.


Kiki and Coco in Paris Craft – Make a Doll

felt doll
natural fiber doll

Making a doll can be so fun and rewarding for children.  Our homeschool elementary sewing group made felt dolls a number of years ago.  Each doll turned out adorable and unique!  We found the pattern for these at CasaMagubako on Etsy, and each girl modified the style to make her own unique doll.

For older girls, making a Waldorf-style natural fiber doll can be fun.  These dolls last for years!  I made many of them as a teen, and my children still play with them today.

For young children, just giving them some fabric scraps, stuffing and a needle and thread can be a great opportunity to create their own special doll.  I still remember one of the dolls I made, probably around the age of 5… loosely stitched together with pick fabric, a face drawn it, and some lace to decorate it.

If you would like to make a doll just like the one in the story, Jess Brown has her own book:  The Making of a Rag Doll.


Kiki and Coco in Paris French Activities

Kiki and Coco word activity

Instantly download these FREE printables to learn some French while enjoying the story of Kiki and Coco.  We recommend just enjoying the story a few times first, then trying the activities.  The first activity lists the French translations of some of the items seen in the pictures of the story (for example, a doll, a slide, and a dog).  The idea is to say the words in French when you see them in the book.  The second activity gives spaces for the child to draw pictures of some of these French words (or second-grader loved this!).  The third activity is a word search to help solidify the vocabulary knowledge (this one is a challenge – suited for upper elementary and older).

Amusez-vous bien!  Have fun!

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Other links may or may not be affiliate links.  We provide links because we have found these products or services beneficial, and we think you might too.

French Saint Nicolas Day Shoe

French Saint Nicolas Day Shoe

Create a cute Saint Nicolas Day shoe with our FREE printable!  Saint Nicolas Day takes place each year on December 6th.  Especially in France, it is a tradition for children to put their shoes by the door on the evening of December 5th and to wake on December 6th to find a treat that Saint Nicolas brought.

Saint Nicolas Day French Shoe
Saint Nicolas Day French Shoe
Saint Nicolas Day French Shoe

This paper shoes has lines from the traditional French song, “Venez, venez, Saint Nicolas.”  “Venez, venez, Saint Nicolas” means “Come, come, Saint Nicholas.”  “Je serai toujours sage…” means “I’ll always be good…”  The back of the shoes says “Mon soulier” (my shoe), and has a space for the child to write his or her name.  

Though using a real shoe might be more traditional, it’s fun to make these paper shoes.  Paper shoes are especially helpful in a classroom setting so that the children don’t have to take off their real shoes.  Once the shoe is made, it can be filled with a treat… we like to use chocolate coins.

Saint Nicolas Day French Shoe

This sweet little song has become a joyful part of the Advent traditions in our home… we think you might like it too!  The images in the video help to illustrate the meaning of the words.

To add to your Saint Nicolas Day festivities, we love the book Saint Nicholas: The Story of the real Santa Claus, as well as the CCC animated movie about the life of Saint Nicholas.  Last year we added the French book, Je peux t’aider, Saint Nicolas? (Can I help you, Saint Nicolas?) to our collection. (Click on the images below to find our more about these Saint Nicholas stories.)

Ready to make your shoe?  Simply click on the image of the shoe cut-out to get the FREE download.  Directions to make the shoe are on the printable.  All you need is paper, colored pencils, scissors, glue, and ribbon (optional).

Joyeuse Fête de Saint Nicolas!

Looking for another way to get ready for Christmas and learn French?

Try our French Advent Calendar!

Simply download and print at home instantly.


Note:  Some links on this page are Amazon Affiliate links.  Sparkles and Sprinkles is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Other links may or may not be affiliate links.  We provide links because we have found these products or services beneficial, and we think you might too.