After our three months in Israel, we changed continents and moved to Costa Rica for another three months. We stayed with local families in three different parts of the country: Potrero on the Pacific Coast, Monteverde in the Cloud Forest, and San Joaquin de Flores in the Central Valley. Living in a homestay made it much easier to learn the language and to appreciate the culture of Costa Rica, as well as the three very different parts of the country. Our 15 year old daughter was able to learn the language especially well by living in her own separate homestay, usually with a family that had a girl her age. By the end of our stay in Costa Rica she was able to easily talk with anyone about any subject.
We decided to do something a little different with Zachary, our nine year old. After studying Spanish for six weeks, we enrolled him in a local Spanish speaking private school in San Joaquin. He learned a lot about the customs and culture of Costa Rica in the school, but he did not make any friends and wasn't very happy there. After three weeks, he returned to the language school with us and had a much better time. At the end of the summer, his Spanish was also quite good and he enjoys speaking it with whoever he can find.
One thing that interested me in Costa Rica was how English was taught to children there. I knew that there were probably some good ideas that I could use when teaching Spanish in my kindergarten class. While in San Joaquin de Flores, a small suburban town near San José, I visited four different preschools in the area and found the teaching methods to be quite different.
In Montessori lessons, concrete objects are used for teaching whenever possible. One of the preschool teachers gave a very effective English lesson to three year olds using small plastic animals. She showed the animal to the group of four children and said slowly and clearly, "This is a horse. Would you like to hold the horse?" Then she let each child hold the horse and pass it to the next child. As they were holding the horse, she asked them a few simple questions, such as "Do you like horses?" "How does the horse feel?" She repeated this with three other animals, each time letting each child have time to feel the animal and say its name. Aferwards she sang a few short songs with the children in English, each involving hand motions and participation.
English lessons are given twice a week by another teacher in a separate building. The main teacher does not speak or use English in the classroom. To me, this seemed a somewhat artificial situation, with little need or encouragement to use the language, except with the English teacher on the special days.
The situation was completely different, however, when I watched the same teacher with a class of three year olds. They enthusiastically sang songs in English and were especially happy with counting songs and songs that use finger plays. The lessons were full of fun and participation and were perfect for the age level. It is unfortunate that this excitement in learning quickly diminished by first grade as lessons became based on tests that would be given and worksheets.
In all four schools the most successful English lessons were with participatory activities in which the children moved around, talked and sang. The children welcomed the songs and asked for more. In all, I would say that the most successful was the lesson given at Centro Educativo Línea Solar in which the group was small and the children could touch what they were learning.
Return to Mr. Shivers Kindergarten Page.