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Snakes, Chutes and Ladders en Español

While part of Lower School Spanish teacher Franko Mansilla’s curriculum focuses exclusively on language concepts and terms, he understands there is more to learn than the spoken word. It’s also important to teach the culture and traditions of this language to provide these young minds with a more complete, robust educational experience.

Congruent with the idea that “play” should be a large part of the Lower School learning process, Mansilla realized that introducing traditional games from Spanish-speaking countries could reinforce language concepts and teach students more about culture. “At the end of the day, learning a new language during a pandemic might face bigger challenges and taking the ‘fun’ out is not an option,” Mansilla explained, “so we were trying to engage with the kids in a different kind of ‘classroom’ environment.” One example: when Mansilla and his students were reviewing the body, he introduced Loteria, a traditional game of chance, similar to bingo, which uses images on decks of cards instead of numbers.

Recently, Mansilla has taken this idea a step further with Parker’s kindergarten students, and, to reinforce the concepts of counting up to 50 and of subir (up)/bajar (down), he turned an entire classroom into a game board for Chutes and Ladders—or, as he initially knew the game, “Serpientes y Escaleras” (Snakes and Ladders). And, as one might expect, the students loved it! “I was happy to find out that this game was all they were talking about,” Mansilla said. “Even teachers from other grades came over. Kids really enjoyed it.” While the ladders slid smoothly on the first day, that didn’t mean Mansilla was content. “I made some changes on the dynamics, for example on the first day all kids were playing on the board; by Wednesday I divided them in pairs, so one flipped the dice and the other moved across the board. That gave me the opportunity to mix them up a little bit and form that sense of camaraderie with other classmates.”

This project went so well that Mansilla has plans to repurpose the space as they advance in their lessons. Next, as the SK students begin learning more and larger numbers, he wants to switch to the game Battleship. “The purpose for this one is for them to be able to say the big numbers randomly, as for now, if you ask a kid about the number doce (12), you will see them counting with their figners to find out what number it is and then translating to Spanish. But I still have to land my idea.”

At Parker, the belief is that Lower School students are at their best when they can combine learning with an element of fun, and these types of lessons are a perfect example of this belief in action. We are very proud of this experience and can’t wait to see what Mansilla thinks up next. “I am just excited to know that kids are loving Spanish, and I am happy to be able to share with them not only a different language but also a part of where I come from. When teachers share with me that kids are writing about their experiences with Spanish, that just warms my heart.”

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.