Kayla Munoz believes that preschool years are a golden age for children to learn new languages. “They are like little sponges, soaking everything up, so eager and excited to learn, she says. “It’s prime time. If you can get them before 5, they absorb language.”
And that’s why, this summer, Munoz is opening Las Abejitas Bilingual Education Center, the first full-fledged bilingual childcare center in Lincoln.
“Our mission is to provide quality care to Lincoln, as well as helping children achieve language acquisition in English and Spanish,” says the owner and director of Las Abejitas.
She says this type of bilingual center will fill several needs in Lincoln.
“We have a growing Hispanic community here and it so important for young children to be able to learn in their native language. But this is also such a brain boost when parents want English-speaking children to learn a second language,” she says. “As a community, we are building up a new generation of children who are going to be more adapted to be global citizens.”
The education center emerges from a partnership with First Lutheran Church, Munoz explains. “After touring and meeting such kind and helpful people, I realized that this church was the perfect space to start my center, my dream,” she says.
Munoz plans to start taking applications in March (initially for children six weeks to six years old), hold an open house in April and be open for business this summer.
Las Abejitas (ah-beh-hee-tas) means “little bees” and is a nod towards the importance of nature, hard work and teamwork, she explains, “All of which are important for developing strong minds.”
Children will have two main teachers throughout their day at Las Abejitas, and they will spend half their day with a teacher who speaks mostly English, and the other half with one who speaks mostly Spanish. Teachers will start with simple language, using clear, concise speech, pictures, actions and repetition – and students will be taught preschool curriculum in both languages, engaging through speaking, listening, drawing, manipulating and playing.
Mumoz credits Lincoln Littles – a passionate network of advocates focused on ensuring access to quality early childhood care and education – with the inspiration and practical support to launch the program. “I was talking about a home center, but Lincoln Littles started talking about the huge need for a full, bilingual childcare center,” she recalls. “At first I was overwhelmed … but they inspired me to take the bigger leap. And the idea has grown on me.”
Lincoln Littles helped her find space, provided resources, offered guidance to licensing and potential grants, she says. In fact, Munoz also received grant funding directly from Lincoln Littles.
The bilingual center will open in phases – as additional areas are renovated in the childcare space – and gradually a wider range of ages may be accepted.
“I’m really excited and I just want to get going. It’s all such a waiting game. But I’m ready.”
She has been ready for a very long time.
Munoz explains, “My love for education and for working with young children started at a very early age. For most of my youth, my mother ran an in-home daycare, and I became her helper as soon as I was old enough. I helped my parents run a group home for foster children through Christian Heritage Foster Care Services throughout high school.”
She majored in Spanish education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – where she also helped lead a before and after elementary school program, helped start and direct a childcare center and taught Spanish preschool. After college she taught at Lincoln High School, but soon realized her true love was working with younger children – and now teaches Spanish at St. Joseph Catholic School.
“I’m so excited about teaching the little ones, fulltime,” she says. I love preschool, I love toddlers, I love how much they absorb. What they learn is just amazing. And I’m so excited to see what we can do with language acquisition – with more time.”
Munoz says Lincoln Public Schools has wonderful language programs, but the school district generally only reaches children in kindergarten and older. “If we can reach children sooner, we can help them learn English, as well as making sure they have opportunities to learn in their native language. It really gives them a boost when they get into kindergarten. It helps level the playing field.”
A few things parents may want to know about Las Abejitas:
- They will use the Gee Whiz curriculum.
- They will have access to a certified nature classroom.
- They will focus on teamwork (with kids having free time to work together and problem solve).
And, she stresses with a laugh, there will be hard work and fun.
“When you see children building forts, reading at story time, creating art, learning a language, it looks like they are playing, she says. “But for kids, that is their work. So, we are going to have fun and play at Las Abejitas Bilingual, and we are going to do some hard work.”
Open House for Las Abejitas Bilingual Education Center is set for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 29 – First Lutheran Church, 1551 South 70th Street.