Ten years ago, Maria Van Dyke opened a Spanish-speaking day care center in her home. That day care has since developed into the Spanish Immersion Montessori Preschool, now located in the Hunter Community Center.
In the program, teachers communicate with the children solely in Spanish to make it easier for them to pick up phrases. Children are expected to ask questions and respond in Spanish as well. Van Dyke said research shows it is easier for a person to pick up a second language before age 5. In fact, the younger the learner, the easier the transition, she said.
“The time to learn is when they are little,” said Elaine Malone, a Royal Oak resident whose 3-year-old daughter attends the preschool. “Then they are not afraid to speak and make mistakes.”
This is the foundation on which Van Dyke built her preschool, and many parents bring their children to the school for that reason. Some have a Spanish-speaking parent at home, but many just want to see their children learn Spanish in a Montessori setting and diversify their cultural experience early on.
Malone teaches Spanish at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and wants her daughter to have exposure to the language. She also likes the fact that there is diversity in the classroom, which she feels is more representative of the world, and she likes that the preschool is at the Hunter Community Center, where seniors gather every day for programs, events and socializing. The age interaction is nice on both ends, she said.
“The most important thing, I think, for me is the songs that she’s learning because she’s having so much fun — and so for her, it’s not like school,” Malone said of her daughter. “She comes and sings, and all of a sudden, she knows the days of the week and the months of the year.”
Teaching children Spanish
Teaching the children to learn Spanish is quite easy, Van Dyke said. Spanish is the first language for all six of the teachers at the preschool, and they typically staff two or three teachers per class period.
Since the class is taught in Spanish, the only alphabet the children learn is Spanish — which Van Dyke said is much easier to learn than the English alphabet, in many cases, because there is only one sound per letter. For this reason, forming words seems to be easy for the students.
When the teachers explain to students how something feels or looks, they demonstrate what they are talking about.
“If we, for instance, want to teach them about different temperatures — hot, cold, warm — instead of using just English translation into Spanish ... we fill up these bottles with different temperatures, and they can feel what caliente feels like, what frío feels like,” Van Dyke said.
Chris Carden, Royal Oak resident and parent of 3-year-old Ravi, who attends the program, said he liked this aspect of the lessons, along with the overall way of Montessori teaching.
“The Montessori has a way of getting them thinking with the crafts about math, geography and fine motor skills early, early on,” Carden said. “It gets them independent and gets them to a point where they are actually mentoring other kids.”
How the preschool works
Classes are available from 9:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Monday-Friday for students age 2 to 5. The 2- and 3-year-olds have a classroom separate from the 4- and 5-year-olds. Students are required to attend class at least two days a week; some attend all five sessions. The program also offers before- and after-care for students from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Van Dyke said the children in her preschool classes come from throughout the area. Most come from Birmingham, Royal Oak and Clawson, but some come from as far away as Ann Arbor, she said.
“It gives them an advantage later on in life,” Van Dyke said. “It teaches them to appreciate another language and have fun with it.”
For more information on the Spanish Immersion Montessori Preschool, visit spanishfortoddlers.com or call 248-597-9932.