Bilingual education, El Yunque, and El Día de los Muertos: How three providers draw on their Hispanic heritage to enrich children’s learning

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, All Our Kin is offering the stories of three providers who draw on their cultural traditions to create unique learning opportunities for children in their family child care programs—including chances to experience bilingual poems, a home-made rainforest, and a Día de los Muertos celebration. We hope you enjoy these stories and join us in celebrating the many creative ways that providers share their culture with children in their care.

María Edith

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María Edith in her sunroom

María Edith is Argentinian by birth, and she incorporates Spanish language into all facets of her family child care program. Before opening her own program, María Edith taught Spanish to older children at a program in Guilford. The little ones are even easier to teach, she says. “They are so fast—they are like a sponge.” Even for children who don’t speak Spanish from the start, she says, “sooner or later they can speak Spanish, and they don’t know where it came from.”

She reads bilingual books with the children, including Goldilocks (Ricitos de Oro). When she can’t find books in both languages, she says, “I take a book that’s in English and I translate it—reinvent it in Spanish.” She gave the example of translating The Teeny-Tiny Woman, a story that she calls La Senora Chiquitititita. The children also learn bilingual poems. During daily circle time, María Edith asks children to select poems from a beautiful metal container. Each poem is illustrated and appears in both Spanish and English. The children sing, dance, and act out poems like “Humpty Dumpty” and “La Pelota Rota” (The Broken Ball).

María Edith says that being exposed to Spanish at a young age “makes the kids open their minds to different cultures.” They learn early to celebrate diversity. When they arrive in school, she thinks they’re more open to “kids from different places.” Working in two languages also awakens their curiosity about linguistic differences. They often ask María Edith to translate specific words between Spanish and English, and she speaks with them about pronunciation differences between her Argentinian-accented Spanish and the accents of Spanish-speakers from Spain or Puerto Rico (like the parents of some children in her program). The children switch fluidly between the two languages, a switch María Edith describes as “chang[ing] the chip.”

Bilingual toy labels at Maria Edith's program.

Bilingual toy labels at María Edith’s program.

María Edith also helps children in her program expand their horizons by introducing them to artists from around the world. She has taught them about celebrated Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, Belarusian painter Marc Chagall, and abstract Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, among others. Children create their own works inspired by these artists’ paintings, such as Kandinsky’s “Squares With Concentric Circles.” Carefully labeled file folders on shelves in her sunroom overflow with vibrantly colored finger paintings and drawings. María Edith was a fashion designer in her home country of Argentina, and she continues to share her interest in art and design with children. “I like to teach what I love,” María Edith explains, “and I learn, too.”

Melissa

Melissa moved to the United States from Puerto Rico eight years ago and currently owns Grandpa’s Family Daycare in New Haven. Melissa follows a weekly curriculum in her program and recently decided to make the Puerto Rican rainforest, “El Yunque,” her theme for the week. “I wanted to show them a little bit of my Puerto Rico,” Melissa said.

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Tree branches help transform Grandpa’s Family Daycare into El Yunque

With help from some of the older children, Melissa collected leaves and branches from her backyard and used them to decorate her child care space. “You should have seen their faces,” Melissa recalled, laughing, as she described the children walking into the room bearing branches.  By the time the room was complete, Melissa said that there were “leaves all over the place” and that “everything was forest.”

She brought in “the sound of the animals” by playing recordings of birds and sprayed water on the plants so that they would glisten like the vegetation in a real rainforest. Melissa said that the children in Grandpa’s Family Daycare “loved to come inside the room and just listen to the birds.” With the sounds of the rainforest surrounding them, the children cut out shapes of birds and pretended that they were animals. Together, they read books on the trees and creatures of El Yunque and tried fruits that can be found in Puerto Rico.

Melissa flashed a warm smile as she remembered another time she introduced the children in her program to Puerto Rican wildlife: last year they learned about the coquí, a tiny frog with a full-sized croak unique to her home country.

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Spanish and English labels in Melissa’s program

Grandpa’s Family Daycare may not look like a rainforest today, but Melissa continues to share elements of her heritage with the children in her program by speaking both Spanish and English with them. “I try to include both, in everything,” she says. She reads books in both languages, including Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  (Oso Pardo, oso Pardo, ¿qué ves ahí?), The Napping House (La Casa Adormecida), and From Head to Toe (De la Cabeza a los Pies). She also sings the children a traditional folk song, De Colores ([Made] of Colors). She sometimes even adds in sign language for simple shapes and animals. Melissa says that one little boy who only speaks English at home took quickly to the different languages in her program. “He got it. He got the sign language, he got the Spanish, everything.”

Felicitas

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Felicitas with a bilingual book she plans to use to teach children about the upcoming holiday

“Since I was born, from zero to 25, I celebrated El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead),” says Felicitas. In her home country of Mexico, many take part in the annual fall holiday to commemorate their ancestors and those who passed away during the previous year. As El Día de los Muertos approaches, Felicitas is preparing to introduce the children in her family child care program to this aspect of her heritage.

Mexican states have their own distinct customs accompanying the holiday. While in some states the tradition is to wear elaborate costumes, Felicitas’ home state focuses on the spiritual aspects of the festival. Communities create altars that are topped with flowers, devotional candles, food, photos of loved ones, and other mementos. The first night of the holiday honors those who died in accidents, the second honors children, and the third honors adults. The items on the altars remain untouched until the final day of the holiday. Residents then gather the flowers and other offerings into large baskets and carry them to the cemetery, littering flower petals on the ground as they walk.  When the community has gathered at the cemetery, the adults take turns describing those who have died. As they share their recollections, Felicitas says, “the smallest ones come to know those who have been buried through the memories of those who are still alive.” By the end of the evening, Felicitas says the candles cast a “powerful light” across the cemetery.

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A bookshelf filled with books in Spanish and English at Felicitas’ program

Felicitas uses the senses to introduce children in her program to these Día de los Muertos customs. After checking that none of the children in her care have allergies, she brings in a special, traditional incense for them to smell. She shows them the Cempasuchil flower, an orange-yellow marigold associated with the holiday. She prepares typical Mexican foods, including tamales and breads, for the children to taste. She also reads them a bilingual book about the holiday, El Día de los Muertos/The Day of the Dead.  Felicitas encourages the children to see the holiday as a chance to remember those they have lost, including pets that have passed away.

Felicitas is an expert teacher who uses careful lesson plans, a range of materials, and attentive and warm instruction to encourage children’s learning. Her approach to the Día de los Muertos celebration is no exception. The children in Felicitas’ program will experience the holiday again in a few weeks; El Día de los Muertos is celebrated at the end of October.

We’re grateful to María Edith, Melissa, and Felicitas for sharing their stories with us. If you are a provider with your own story to tell, we hope that you’ll let us know! All Our Kin is always glad to have the chance to recognize our inspiring providers for their work.

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2 Responses to Bilingual education, El Yunque, and El Día de los Muertos: How three providers draw on their Hispanic heritage to enrich children’s learning

  1. Marta says:

    Algunos articulos me interesaron mass todo hay que decirlo 😉

  2. Pingback: Dual Language Learning and Early Education Settings | All Our Words

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