No one is shushing the pint-size kids congregating on a large world-map rug in the children's section of the Fletcher Free Library. Catchy Latin music plays from a speaker while instructor Constancia Gomez, wearing a furry Russian-style hat and cowboy boots, rounds up stragglers to join her 45-minute class, Spanish Musical Kids.
As the group gets settled, Gomez converses casually in Spanish with one of the attending grandmothers, who happens to be from Argentina.
"I'm from Argentina," Gomez announces to the group in accented English, flinging off both hat and boots and getting down to the children's level. "Do you guys remember where Argentina is?" She gestures to the bottom part of South America on the rug. "Do you know where we live?" she continues. "It starts with a B ... I know, it's hard — Burlington!"
Gomez, who lives in Warren with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, easily engages the group of almost a dozen 1- to 4-year-olds and their caregivers.
First up is a getting-to-know-you song. A little girl says her name — Molly — and the group sings and claps, "Yo me llamo Molly, Molly, Molly, Yo me llamo Molly ¿Quién eres tú?" before moving on to the next person.
For a different tune, Gomez breaks out egg-shaped shakers from her light-blue vintage suitcase. She tosses one to each kid and they shake the instruments in circular motions while singing "Bate Bate Chocolate," a song about stirring up hot chocolate. "What else can we make?" Gomez asks. Kids offer several suggestions, such as popcorn and cake. Gomez teaches the words in Spanish — palomitas and torta.
A dozen or so well-worn stuffed animals are props for a Spanish version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Kids shake jingle bells and hug their chosen critters — unicorns, lambs, monkeys and kitties — as the song cycles through the different creatures on the farm.
The itty-bitty audience sometimes loses focus. Kids toddle off to explore different parts of the library, retreat to the couch for a snack break and expound on random topics. Gomez takes it all in stride.
"In Latin countries we make tortillas. Do you make tortillas with your papis or mamis?" Gomez asks at one point.
"I cook melon," says a little boy.
"I cook vegetables," says his older sister.
Gomez switches gears fluidly. "Muy bien. Who eats vegetables here?" she asks, launching into different vegetable names in Spanish.
Toward the end of the class, Gomez reads a Spanish-language version of Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which features all kinds of animals.
"That's a frog," says a child from the rug.
"Una rana. Can you say una rana?" Gomez asks the group. Several kids repeat the word.
Gomez draws on her own experience learning a new language to teach her students. She came to the United States from Buenos Aires in 2000 to work at Sugarbush Resort, where she still teaches a music program at the daycare center. She says she spoke little English when she first moved to Vermont but picked it up quickly, mostly through conversations with others.
Using music as a teaching tool comes naturally to Gomez, whose musical roots run deep. Her mother was an amateur singer and her grandmother, a teacher, founded a music school in northern Argentina. "When you do something that makes you happy, you'll learn better. They are singing," she says of the kids. "They don't even know they're learning."
Gomez has plans to record a CD of Spanish folk songs and to get nonprofit status for Spanish Musical Kids so she'll be eligible to receive more grants to expand her programming. In addition to being a Spanish instructor, she teaches salsa, merengue and Zumba and helps to run her family's goat farm, La Lu Farm.
She's taught Spanish to students through high school and says she enjoys instructing language learners of all ages. Working with the littlest students is particularly rewarding, though. "Kids at this age, they learn so easily," she says. "It's so amazing."
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