I am in some need of help! I am the (only) Spanish teacher at a private PK- 6th school. I see students starting in K (once a week for 30 minutes), 1st (2x week for 30 minutes), and 3rd-6th (2x out of a 6 day rotation for 30 minutes). I have a number of bilingual students and am at a loss with what to do with them during class. We use the Symtalk program for grades K-4 and a MS text for 5th/ 6th. By then, my native speakers work independent on an upper level text, but what can I do with k-4th to keep them challenged and learning? Yes, I could supplement, but that doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with them IN class! Any ideas? I’d say I struggle most with kindergarten and 1st…

I sure hope the fact that I have used the title Sing, Dance, and Play Teaching Spanish and English Each Day! as one of my training workshops with early childhood professionals for 10 years puts your mind at ease from the start of my suggestions! Your job is already challenging enough, and I trust that advice today will help make the teaching more fun for everyone!

How wonderful is the mind of those little 5 and 6 year olds? Birth – five is the spongiest time of their brains so you are right there with them amiga, helping them absorb languages!

How active are their little bodies? Most of these children you are hoping to keep challenged and keep learning are wanting to move, move, move so many of my suggestions involve activities.

How many of them absolutely LOVE learning with music? Very rarely have I met a kindergartener or first grader who did not enjoy music in their classroom and/or daily routine – it’s a given that music should be part of every young child’s learning process. Plus how many of us adults have learned something to music that to this day we can still sing back (the planets, the colors of the rainbow in order, the states of the United States, and so forth)?!

Find music CDs (I suggest bilingual CDs for this age group to provide a point of reference, comfort level, and continued pride in the child’s native language) that you can use to supplement the concepts already being taught in their main classroom. CDs with colors, numbers, shapes, family members, days of the week, and other early learning concepts can bring the language learning to a level full of fun for the child who loves to learn with movement (focusing in on gross and fine motor skills). Incorporate props from the dollar stores in your community to appeal to the tactile learner, then use the internet or a local learning supply store to weave in the written language of both English and Spanish as the visual learners need to see it to learn it for long term retention. Watch this Days of the Week song via a YouTube video using bright visual learning aids from Lakeshore Learning.

Use games that incorporate Call-And-Response … children this age love to shout back to you what you request of them (think Dora the Explorer’s show where they yell “Abre” or “Backpack”). Joining forums for fellow Spanish teachers of young children would be very helpful, but I know how much time this takes to get into these chat rooms and ‘talk.’ That is why I send you to another YouTube video that uses Ricardo (a brightly colored puppet from Crate and Barrel) and some plastic fruits from a child’s play kitchen center to help children learn fruit names in both Spanish and English. You can use any sock puppet and any concept material you wish to teach (shapes, colors, animals). The children would play this for an entire 30-minute class if you allowed them to!

Many of us will remember the ‘shell game’ where you place items under cups that the children cannot see through, and you have them guess which cup has the shell underneath it after mixing the cups up. Take that same game, add in some Spanish and English, and you have a fun lesson that involves reinforcement of many concepts taught to children ages 3-8! Watch this short sample of the game using colores/colors.

Next up – for all of the fun lessons using music & movement – I highly suggest a follow up book for early literacy skills on both the native and new languages. Clifford the Red Dog (a Scholastic property) has a knack for helping young children love to read in Spanish and English. Look at this book about Opposites/Los opuestos. How about another board book (perfect for those little ones’ hands!) on What Time is it?/¿Qué hora es? by a fellow mom and entreprenuer? I love the line of books this publisher called me+mi offers us teachers and moms to use as we help raise a generation of bilingual toddlers and preschoolers! Often times I will play a song from the Boca Beth line up of bilingual songs to get all of the children’s wigglies out of them before sitting them down to follow along with my books. Works like a charm!

I did not miss the fact that you have many native Spanish speakers. With the use of my suggested bilingual approach you will be assisting them with their English while maintaining their native language with pride. I often ask my advanced bilinguals in Kindergarten and First Grade to be the maestra or maestro with me. They feel a burst of self-confidence when being asked to help an adult with a lesson, and most parents remark that their children are less resistant to speaking their Spanish in public and at home after being the ‘teacher’ in school. Enlisting the assistance of bilingual children to bring traditional Latin American songs, finger plays, and games to life is another way to keep them challenged and engaged in the learning process.

Bottom line is to make your classes full of fun for the younger set – allowing the children to be children through and through! By the way, I use many of the songs and games suggested above during my Great American Teach In days with middle school ESL students ages 11-13 (most of whom speak Spanish as their native language), and they beg for más, more, más! ¡Es la verdad! / It’s the truth!

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