Our program creates a total Spanish immersion environment for children. Our songs, games, and instructional materials are all in Spanish, and our instructors endeavor to create a strong conversational foundation for our students by using Spanish throughout the class hour with minimal English interference.
Introducing child learners to an immersive space is the key to successful lifelong language learning. The fact is, children have amazing brains! Children under the age of fourteen are able to process and incorporate a high volume of linguistic information, and according to current research, children who begin learning their second language before the age of seven are almost guaranteed to attain native-like pronunciation ability. Plus, unlike adults, children tend to have fewer affective filters: they are less afraid to make mistakes and more comfortable dealing with semantic uncertainty. Therefore, their brains are primed for perceiving and negotiating new information and meanings from their surrounding environment!
For more information, see Patricia Kuhl’s Ted Talk: The Linguistic Genius of Babies
Also, check out this article on the cognitive benefits of being exposed to more than one language as an infant: Why Bilinguals are Smarter
When you read out loud, you are teaching about communication, and helping young children build their listening and memory skills” – from Reading to Very Young Learners
Stories are important for language learning. For this reason, we regularly read stories together as a class. We draw from our set of classroom books, which closely follow our curriculum themes and allow students to hear the vocabulary they are learning in a narrative context.
Narratives and favorite characters present language in a fun and social format, which is key for successful linguistic development. When children are emotionally invested in their learning, they understand and retain more information.
As in English, simple Spanish songs are easy to learn and help children absorb common sound patterns. Each unit of the Risas y Sonrisas curriculum includes multiple songs that introduce new vocabulary rhythmically, and allow children to build associations between the words and the objects that they are singing about. Musicality also helps train children’s ears to more quickly and precisely perceive and recognize the sounds of Spanish.
We incorporate structured conversation practice into our curriculum, regularly introducing and reviewing common Spanish questions and answers that correspond to our songs and vocabulary materials. Observing and participating in interactive conversations with their teacher and peers allows students to to hear new words and phrases in a social and emotional context. Students learn and retain material learned in social situations much more rapidly. Many of our conversation Q&A’s also appear in class songs, which are characterized by repetition, rhythm, rhyme and musicality, so that children can easily memorize and recall key everyday Spanish phrases.
Sign Language and Movement
Incorporating movement into lessons is an important part of creating a stimulating sensory learning environment. Moving, dancing, or actively pointing to objects encourages children to observe with focus and make form-meaning connections between language and their environment.
We also incorporate sign language into our lessons. Teaching sign language alongside Spanish has a threefold advantage (at minimum!). First, it presents a movement-based learning modality that is especially beneficial for kinesthetic learners. Children are totally engaged as they listen, repeat, and speak. Second, signs deepen the connection between English and Spanish words (many signs are the same in both languages). Third, it provides non-verbal children a way to demonstrate their understanding.
For more information about using sign language to build bridges between two languages, check out Bilingualism and the Brain and Baby Signing in Bilingual/Multilingual Homes
Our curriculum is chock full of games! Every class we make an effort to play at least one or two games that allow students to actively use new vocabulary. Games are engaging, entertaining, and they push students to actively practice and use Spanish in order to win! We also do fun Spanish-based arts and crafts as culminating activities that let students exhibit what they’ve learned.
There is a research-based rationale for play. Play is an essential activity for children as they develop motor and social skills. Having fun is also invaluable for language learning! The part of the brain that processes emotion is responsible for storing memory as well. Because of this, children (and adults!) tend to retain more linguistic information when this language is tied to happy and excited emotional states. Play also promotes multisensory experiences in which children are listening, looking, moving, touching or creating. Learning activities full of sensory stimulation promote growth of connections between brain cells.
For further information on early childhood language learning and the brain, see Can Preschool Children Be Taught a Second Language?
In addition to teaching new vocabulary through song, movement, and games, we also devote full class days to “Word Work” activities, which are centered on building visual recognition and phonemic awareness. Word Work days have two components: visual-based Sight Word and phonics-based Making Words activities.
Sight Words are short, high frequency Spanish words that are key to basic conversation and reading in the Spanish language. On Word Work days, we introduce and practice one Sight Word with tracing and coloring activities for PreK students, and sentence-writing activities for older students. The goal is for students to memorize these whole words so that they may recognize them automatically when they encounter them in print.
In Making Words activities, students practice spelling and writing Spanish words phonetically. We begin with short two-letter words, and build up to spelling words that are 6-10 letters long. The purpose of this activity is to build phonemic awareness and encourage students to internalize the differences between English and Spanish vowels and consonants.
To review these activities in a fun way, we incorporate word and letter-based activities and games, such as Palabro (Bingo with Sight Words), Rainbow Writing (writing sight words with multiple colors), and classifying words by alphabetic order, syllable, or rhyme.
All students are provided with materials and online resources which they can use to practice at home. PreK students receive developmentally-appropriate worksheets that provide Spanish practice through tracing, coloring, and identifying words and images. The rest of our students receive Risas y Sonrisas workbooks, which give them extensive opportunities to practice recognizing and spelling Spanish vocabulary and Q&A phrases in a variety of formats. There are unique workbooks for each course level. All students have access to the Risas y Sonrisas online resource sites, which contains all of our class songs, sign language videos, and practice games.
In addition, we also provide custom-made worksheets for both PreK and non-PreK students to practice our new and previous Sight Words that we learn on Word Work days.
Homework and Facebook Sharing
Sharing photos and videos of activities that we do in class or at home helps reinforce learning and create a community of learners. Children will be proud to see their accomplishments recorded and shared for others to see! Feel free to share any “Wow” Spanish moments you experience with your child. It is much more likely that you will see or hear them speaking at home than in class!