The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Summer 2020

Primary School Update - Exploring the World Through Language

by Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
What do robotic bees, sugar skulls, and the paintings of Georges Seurat have in common? They are all featured projects in Fay’s Primary School World Languages curriculum.
Every language class in the Primary School begins in the same way. Starting in a circle, the students greet one another in the target language and play a warm-up game. French and Spanish teacher Erin Overstreet will often roll a six-sided die that features different challenges or questions to initiate speaking and listening in the target language, such as “marchez comme un manchot” (walk like a penguin) or “bougez comme une tortue” (move like a turtle). 

There’s a simple reason for the consistency: to build comfort and confidence. “Whether it’s talking about the calendar, the weather, or rolling the die,” says Erin, “starting class consistently gives the students a sense of comfort. When they know what to expect, they’re more willing to participate and try speaking the language.”

At Fay, language study starts in Kindergarten. Primary students meet two or three times per week with Erin Overstreet, devoting the first half of the year to Spanish and the second half to French. This approach offers a broad exposure to both languages before students choose a single language to pursue—either French or Spanish—starting in third grade.

The Primary School’s language program focuses on the natural acquisition of language through games, stories, and creative projects. It is based on the F.L.E.X (Foreign Language Experience) model, where students are exposed to functional chunks of language as well as cultural components that establish a broad foundation for later language studies. Through games, songs, and literature, students learn expressions and vocabulary while also developing an understanding of the cultures of different Francophone and Hispanic countries. 

Primary School language projects are hands-on, with opportunities to build, make art, or write and illustrate books. “Language study has always been a way for me to access other interests like history, music, art, and grammar,” Erin says. “So I get excited when my students can connect their language study to their other interests!”

While studying Spanish in the fall, Primary students learned about Mexico’s Día de Los Muertos holiday, which celebrates family members who have passed away. Students learned about its historical origins in the Aztec culture and discussed how the Mexican cultural perspective on death differs from their own. Students created calaveras de azúcar, traditional Mexican sugar skulls decorated with bright colors and designs, which reinforced the children’s study of colors and shapes.

In Kindergarten, students practiced their French color and number vocabulary by creating pointillist “color-by-number” paintings of boats in the style of French post-impressionist artist Georges Seurat. Using Q-tips instead of paintbrushes, students carefully painted boats point-by point as they referred to a French number and color key. As they became more comfort- able using the French vocabulary, you could hear them ask for more rouge or bleu to complete their paintings.

Second graders build their global perspective by learning about the countries where French and Spanish are spoken. When they are studying Spanish, second graders learn about Spanish-speaking cultures in the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Costa Rica. As they study French, they take virtual tours through France, Canada, and Senegal. Students track their travels and record information about each country in a “passport” that they stamp with each unit of study.

The language program also offers plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. Kindergarten students practice direc- tional vocabulary in French, for example, by coding bee-shaped robots (called BeeBots) to navigate through a large grid on the floor with commands like à droite or en avant. Second graders extend their Spanish studies with a look at the Moorish art of the Alhambra and then creating their own hand-painted mosaic tiles.

World Languages Department Chair Kara Mertz notes that research has shown that children’s brains are uniquely primed for language acquisition—and that those brain systems stop growing in the middle school years when many schools start their language study. Studies have also shown that learning a second language leads to more flexible and creative thinking. “Brain research shows that kids who are exposed to languages grow up to become more flexible and open-minded adults,” says Kara. “Our Primary ßprogram helps us realize our overall mission of instilling a love of language and culture and an appreciation for diverse perspectives in our student body.” 

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