Its 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and the Whale Pod—one of Wildwood’s four multi-age kindergarten/1st grade classes, is ramping up. “¡Hola!” greets Catalina Hernandez, one of the elementary school Spanish teachers. “¿Comó estas?” As she speaks, Catalina’s whole body seems to say hello: her facial expression is exaggerated, she waves excitedly, and she practically sweeps kids up with her enthusiasm.
Children repeat the greeting and immediately launch into a quick exercise where they go around the semi-circle asking each other’s names. Then they count to 20, using their bodies to express each digit. Now it’s time for a song. We are 10 minutes into the half-hour lesson, and so far not a word of English has been spoken. Catalina cheers los niños on with, “¡Excellenté! ¡Muy bien!” This is not a class for the lazy. Catalina keeps her young charges moving at a fast clip; there’s no time to get bored.
At this point in their Spanish education, the Pod students are gaining confidence in speaking a new language; confidence is the foundation for the mastery that comes later. Over the next few years, students will develop the rhythm and basic vocabulary through Total Physical Response (TPR). They’ll dance, point, use their fingers, and make silly faces that they will associate with Spanish vocabulary.
Does it work?
If Tuesday’s class was any indication, the answer is a resounding “sí.” Toward the end of the lesson, Catalina asked students to go around the room and point to something “azul.” With little hesitation, each child found a blue object. Then she asked for “rojo.” They quickly dispersed and regrouped around red objects. And so it went as she worked them through the primary colors.
Were they learning? Yep. Were they having the best time doing it? Yep. Kind of sneaky, that TPR. Learning by having fun. Sign me up.