¡HOLA! A Playgroup in Spanish has been a leader in children’s Spanish instruction. Now in its 19th year, it’s a unique, grassroots language immersion program in which babies and kids ages 0 months to 6 years enter the fun and exciting world of the Spanish language.
It is designed to provide a great introduction or boost to your child’s emerging Spanish skills. Classes are taught through the use of visual, auditory and verbal input, including the use of educational materials, original and traditional music, games, props, literary works, arts, and crafts while engaging children in a multi-sensory learning process. Play, artistic expression, and socialization are the touchstones of its programs. A combination of teacher-led and unstructured play activities help encourage children to interact and discover many aspects of the world around them.
The program focuses on a wide repertoire of concepts to build vocabulary, develop oral skills in a safe and nurturing way, and help children acquire the correct use of phonetics while also enhancing children’s cognitive abilities, fine/gross motor skills, and social and artistic capabilities. Children get to love Spanish through ¡HOLA! because it is fun, always surprising and engaging them!
Let’s see what Verónica Braun its Founder, Director, and CEO has to say.
I started ¡HOLA! in Greenwich Village in NYC as a first-time mom, as my interest was to provide a space for my one-year-old son where he could develop as a bilingual and bicultural child. I had studied languages both in the US and France, and I had an idea of how to teach. Plans had been on since the Summer of 2000 to start a playgroup/mommy and me group in Spanish, and the community provided a wonderful place to support programs for families and children (The Elizabeth Setton Childbirth Center), which today is a branch of Mount Sinai. The local playground was a fabulous way to meet new moms and make new buddies.
Then 9/11 attacks happened and I hesitated. It was not until November of 2001 that I realized that I had to start the group sooner rather than later. Even though I felt that the city and the world were falling apart, the children still needed their safe space. At the playground, we could see portions of the twin towers passing by in trucks, the stench of burnt electronics was very pervasive. The Setton Center supported my idea, and in no time, both English, Spanish moms and a bunch of Latin caretakers began attending the only group I ran for mixed age children. As they grew, the programs began to develop, and almost 20 years later, we are still rolling!
My passion for children began while growing up in Mexico City with being surrounded by siblings and cousins, with large families on both the maternal and paternal sides. I’d always be “The Teacher” during playtime. I’ve always played the role of caretaker too, and it suited me well.
As I continued working with children and they became consistently participating in ¡HOLA!’s groups, I became very fond of them, I received so much love from them! The parents and nannies would always tell me anecdotes on how their children were getting so much out of the program in their daily life, they were saying their words in Spanish and were able to communicate better and they were learning so much more than just words in Spanish, but the programs provided a unique learning experience, so this was the biggest gift to me. I also had the opportunity to produce ¡HOLA!’s only original music CD back in those days, so a lot of work had to be done still ahead to develop the programs, the concept and how I was going to do it. I had to create groups for both younger and older children as they continued attending, their average then was between 18 months to 3-year-olds.
There are so many wonderful stories that could be shared, so many wonderful little souls, hundreds at this point. I only wish that back then I would have had time and more hands and resources to have recorded the most precious moments with the children. I hire a few teachers, ours is a small team, and the teachers who work for ¡HOLA! have unique gifts, and I train them incessantly so that I can transmit to them what is most important and unique about ¡HOLA!
I feel that that the biggest contribution in breaking today’s barriers in an ever-expanding global world, Spanish is becoming a necessity even at the pre-school level and ¡HOLA! gives the foundation to develop language and skills, and has helped these generations in making it easier in their bilingual journeys.