Early Exposure to a Foreign Language

I remember scrambling through my father’s book collection when I was seven years old—the seemingly endless pile of books on musical instruments, Christianity, and healthy cooking. One book quickly grasped my attention. It was bright yellow with a black banner across the top with yellow and black writing. There was a little boy with a cone-shaped head with spikes of hair and bulging eyes. Putting my newly acquired reading skills to good use, I made out the title Spanish for Dummies. Since then, I enjoy learning Spanish and having dialogues with native speakers.

I serve as a health educator at Tiger Academy, a free, public charter school on the Northwest side of Jacksonville, Florida. In my position, I have the flexibility to bring my passions inside the classrooms and provide more opportunities for learning to the students. Compared to private schools, many public schools do not have the funds to implement Spanish as an elective for their students, especially starting at such a young age. However, Tiger Academy goes above and beyond to give their scholars an enriched, rigorous curriculum that includes exciting classes such as art, music, and media.

When the chance to share my love of Spanish with five-year-olds arose, in addition to teaching health and providing literacy tutoring, I immediately began crafting ideas for my lessons. The students coasted right through learning their numbers and colors successfully through songs, drawings, and stories. They even were able to quickly learn and recite a Christmas song in time for the Christmas carol sing-along.

One of the biggest challenges I face is designing a variety of activities to do in one session. Their little minds cannot help but wander off after ten minutes of starting one activity. Because of this, my lessons are designed to include songs, hands-on activities, and a chance to get up and move. This way, I know they will always be engaged and expecting a surprise. Currently, I am teaching action verbs like bailar, caminar, saltar, correr, jugar, comer, and more. The information I teach during their health class easily transfers over to these lessons because students are able to learn the vocabulary all while being active on the playgrounds.

My time at Tiger Academy has been incredible to say the least. The faculty and staff are welcoming and are there whenever I need advice. The students are so loving and are my biggest motivation for making sure I am giving 100%—nothing less—every time I step foot inside of a classroom. Learning Spanish was very difficult for me. Prior to coming to Florida, I didn’t have enough resources to fully understand and fluently speak the language. As a result, I had to cross out many gap-year opportunities that I wanted to pursue in Florida. My hope is that students will hold on to their interest in Spanish and seek out more ways to learn and immerse themselves in different cultures, opening up more doors to experiences and careers.

This blog was authored by NHC Florida Member Kimberly Thomas.

Kimberly serves at Tiger Academy YMCA as a Health Educator.