Spanish preschool offers kids a new language and a window into the larger world

Come September, the sounds of the Spanish language will fill a north-end home when Sarah Bunch opens a Spanish language preschool there.

Sarah Bunch and her daughter Julietta at the new preschool.

Come September, the sounds of the Spanish language will fill a north-end home when Sarah Bunch opens a Spanish language preschool there.

The school, El Gato con Botas — or Puss in Boots — will serve Island children ages 3 to 5 four days a week, and, like at most preschools, kids will immerse themselves in play, art, music, dancing and outdoor activities, all of it in Spanish, according to Bunch.

“The goal is to be speaking in Spanish the whole time,” she said.

The school, tucked into the daylight basement of the home Bunch shares with her husband Alejandro Polo and their two young daughters, is filled with toys, puzzles, books, art supplies, a play kitchen area and a reading nook. Outside is a play structure in the yard, which will also boast a mud pie kitchen area come fall.

“We’ll get very dirty,” Bunch said with a laugh.

Bunch, 34, grew up on Vashon but spent many years away, most recently eight years living in Valencia, Spain, where she met her husband and gave birth to their two daughters. Once a mother, she felt the need to return to her roots, she said, and she and the girls returned to Vashon in February. Polo joined them just last month, after staying behind to sell the couple’s café

Bunch had the idea of opening a preschool on Vashon while they were still in Spain, she said, and received considerable encouragement from her long-time friend Jenny Michelson, who owns the Island’s Love and Laughter Drop-in Preschool.

For Bunch, who is fluent in Spanish and a firm believer in the benefits of learning more than one language, opening a Spanish preschool made sense.

“The great thing about starting (a foreign language) when they’re so young is that you don’t even really teach it,” she said. “At this age, their brains are wired to be taking everything in.”

There are considerable benefits for doing so, she noted. Research shows that it’s good for brain development. What’s more, Bunch said, learning a second language is useful at a time when the world seems to be getting smaller, and it can bridge gaps between cultures.

“There are so many good reasons to learn one,” she said.

While her goal is to speak Spanish at all times at the school, she said she realizes that won’t always be possible. If a child needs to be comforted, she said, she will speak in English, as well as for issues of safety and when a conflict arises and more advanced social skills are called for.

“They need to know those words and concepts to take outside of class,” she said.

For Bunch, this fall will mark the first time she has taught preschool, though she has a background in education. She has a master’s degree in education and taught kindergarten several years ago at an international school in Monterey, Calif. She also taught English to young children in Spain, and she is the mother to her two young bi-lingual daughters, ages 3 and 17 months.

Islander Aristy Gill, who owns the French-immersion preschool La Petite Etoile and is an advocate of early language instruction, said that while some Island preschools, including her own, have lower enrollments this fall, she welcomes Bunch to the fold.

“I’m excited for her,” Gill said. “I think it is a wonderful thing for the Island to have this opportunity.”

After running a five-week Spanish immersion camp for kids at the school this summer, Bunch said she is ready for the school to open next month.

“I’m learning a lot by doing it,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing. We don’t really stop learning.”

El Gato con Botas will be open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday beginning Monday, Sept. 12. The address is 10745 S.W. 110th St. Call 473-0445 for more information.