Faby Peck leaned forward, putting herself at eye level with Maria Smith. She waved the hands of a brightly colored puppet and coaxed a verbal ‘Hello’ from the girl “Can you wave Hola?”
Peck drew the vowel out at the end, “Holaaaaa..” and Maria giggled, waving her fingers in the air. “Hola,” she said quietly.
“This is Juana, can you say, ‘Hola Juana?” Peck said. “Juana is going to show us a few of her friends, amigos.”
For the next 20 minutes, Maria, her brother William and father Josh Smith followed Peck through a new bilingual Spanish-English storytime at the Kenai Public Library.
Peck’s storytime doesn’t follow a traditional format, she makes faces, dances around the room and makes a lot of noise in a corner of the children’s library.
Her bookless tale introduced the Smiths to Juana the puppet’s friends including “El Caballo” a horse that led the group galloping around the room, and “La Vaca,” a cow that had the children moo-ing during her introduction.
The kids jumped around the room imitating rabbits and then learned how to identify the parts of their face during a musical number that had Peck contorting her face to illustrate the different words.
Maria was enthralled.
“A fish!” she shouted, as Peck held up a flash card of “el pesce.”
After each introduction, the Smiths were given time to imitate each animal or dance around the room and Peck said she hoped the interactivity of the lessons would help the language stick with younger children.
“A little kid, a toddler like this age, cannot sit still for more than five minutes. So you cannot request a kid to go through a 20-minute storytelling,” Peck said. “They have to do something, they have to touch something, they have to play, they have to be active.”
Peck began her storytime program in October and said she will continue at the library every Thursday.
The India native said she was raised in Peru and taught in South America for 20 years before moving to the U.S. three years ago.
She said she wanted to continue teaching when she came to Alaska, so she tutors in Spanish and teaches at Kenai Peninsula College as well.
She smiled when she talked about starting as a storyteller and quickly learning that children didn’t have the attention span to sit still for very long.
Peck developed a habit of telling children she would fall asleep if they didn’t keep her awake.
To illustrate, she paused and began snoring loudly.
“So they are paying attention because they don’t want me to go to sleep. They have to wake me up, that is there job. If I don’t wake up there is no more storytelling, so they are like, ‘Ahh!’” Peck said.
Each lesson incorporates flash cards, hand puppets, and sometimes music on Peck’s iPad as she coaxes children into repeating Spanish words with her.
“I was expecting to have Spanish-speaking kids, but then I realized that they are learning so I adapt my storytelling both languages so they can get used to their English words and they also know what’s in Spanish,” Peck said.
Her lessons can be adapted to include older students as well and Peck said she hoped people would come out often to participate.
“I love it,” Peck said. “I like to see my kids going somewhere with the language. The ones I’m teaching here, I say, ‘You know it doesn’t matter what career you are taking, you can use Spanish as a tool. You can be a translator. You can be above and beyond. That’s the goal.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org