There are many studies that show that learning a language is easiest during early childhood and provides the child cognitive advantages. Preschools and elementary schools across the country have taken these findings and have begun to implement foreign language education that is engaging for young children.
Here in Albuquerque, Manzano Day School teaches students how to communicate in Spanish and develop an appreciation for Hispanic heritage and culture. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Marco Palomares, the director of Spanish Education at Manzano Day School, to learn how he weaves cultural appreciation, social interaction, and New Mexican history throughout the Spanish curriculum.
A focus on cultural appreciation while learning a foreign language allows for the development of future leaders who are aware of and appreciate diversity.
Learning Spanish, or any language, without some prior knowledge and understanding of culture is difficult because some concepts cannot be easily translated into English. We are so fortunate to live in New Mexico, where Hispanic culture and heritage are found throughout our daily lives. Manzano Day School focuses on different cultural activities with their students each year, and as parents, we can be inspired by their curriculum to begin cultural appreciation and learning within our own family. Here’s a quick overview of the cultural activities each grade focuses on at Manzano Day School:
- 1st Grade: Mexican Independence Day
- 2nd Grade: Dia de Los Muertos
- 3rd Grade: New Mexico’s Spanish Territories and visiting El Rancho de Los Golondrinas
- 4th Grade: Focus on the Pueblos, Spanish history of New Mexico, and Hispanic Art, such as punched tin
- 5th Grade: Chile Roasting and Chile Ristra Making events to honor New Mexican traditions, Cinco de Mayo, and a deep exploration of a Spanish-speaking country chosen by the 5th-grade class. This year they chose Guatemala.
In addition to cultural appreciation, the Spanish curriculum at Manzano Day School focuses on social interaction. Mr. Palomares said his Spanish classes are a fun and dynamic environment using songs, games, short dialogues, plays, and hands-on activities.
“We learn a language through interaction. That interaction has to be social and meaningful.”
He believes students must experience and use the language in ways that are relevant to their lives in order to meaningfully learn. A few suggestions for families to implement this social interaction at home are to utilize technology, such as computer games or TV in Spanish, as well as “field trips” to a local restaurant where you can order in Spanish and practice your newly learned skills with native speakers. The key is to be an active learner in language.