Preschool for my Spanish-speaking child

I'm having a VERY hard time assessing whether sending our child, who primarily speaks Spanish, to an English-speaking preschool would speed up language loss in an irreversible way, and she would not be eligible for Berkeley's public bilingual/two-way immersion elementary program. She currently only speaks Spanish, as both her parents speak Spanish to her. She hears some English, and understands several words, but has not formally learned English and does not socialize in English. We are considering a couple of Berkeley Jewish preschools (Gan Shalom, Beth El Nursery School) as well as The Berkeley School. All these schools have some staff who speak in Spanish but who regularly use English with the children. We are also considering Centro Vida in Berkeley (in Spanish). We want the best quality play-based educational environment that values community and culture, without speeding up language shift. Any other parents who have dealt with how to raise bilingual children successfully? We have found that most "Spanish-immersion" preschools in Berkeley are full of kids who don't speak Spanish at home so kids essentially don't really participate in Spanish at school or talk to each other in Spanish, and community events are in English. Additionally, there aren't that many supplemental programs right now in Spanish or that center Latinx culture.  Any advice on any of the programs we are considering, especially from Spanish-speaking families is hugely appreciated! THANKS FOR YOUR ADVICE!

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My almost-three year old son is half Latino, and my husband and I really want him to grow up speaking Spanish so he has facility with it as an adult. We speak English at home, though. For the first two years of his life he had a Spanish-speaking babysitter and he understands her. When it came time to go to preschool I tried hard to find one for him that was Spanish-speaking but competition to get into ANY preschool is fierce. He was accepted to a preschool in North Berkeley call the New School (on Bonita Avenue) where they are Spanish-friendly. What this means is that he has a teacher whose primary language is Spanish though she's fully bilingual, and she speaks to him in Spanish. That's the best I've been able to do. As far as I know, there are some openings for the New School in the fall of 2022. You've probably already figured this out, but there are more small, in-home, Spanish speaking preschools or daycares the closer you get to Oakland. Buena suerte!


Based on our experience: Your kid has a much, much, much better chance of getting into Sylvia Mendez if she is a Spanish-speaker at the time of assessment.  If you put your kid in an English-speaking preschool, she will likely be fully bilingual or possibly even English dominant by the time she is assessed.  If it very very difficult to keep a child Spanish-speaking in an English-speaking culture.  SUPER HARD!  

This is based on the experience of my two kids. One is now 12 and one is 16, both are product of the BUSD TWI program.  It is an excellent program at a wonderful school with truly stellar teachers.  There are hundreds of kids who are competing for 60 English-speaking slots, and they are always short on Spanish-speaking kids.  Spanish speaking kids are pretty much guaranteed to get in.  My kids both had several friends who grew up in Spanish-speaking households whose first language was Spanish, and who quickly lost Spanish fluency and comfort when they entered into English preschool.  This is a common occurrence.  

My youngest is a graduate of Centro Vida.  Hands down, if you have that option, I would suggest you go for it.  She still talks fondly about her teachers, the amazing activities they did there, and the food.  It helped her develop a sense of pride in speaking Spanish and being Latina.  

Great work on trying to hard to help your kid speak Spanish.  It is hard but worth it!  My kids are fully bilingual, read and write in English and Spanish, and most importantly to us - converse easily and beautifully in Spanish with elder family members, people on the street, and little kids in parks :).

I can't speak to the programs you mentioned. We adopted our daughter from Guatemala, and committed to raising her bilingually despite neither my husband nor I being Spanish speakers. I studied Spanish, helped by other languages I'd studied plus preteen Spanish a million years before.  Reading kids' books in Spanish helped (lots of repetition), plus having a Spanish-speaking half-time nanny. My daughter and I communicated in Spanish until she was about 3.5, at which point she switched me into English.  When she was 4, we enrolled her in EBI.  As you appear to have observed, in programs like EBI, the kids have Spanish in the classroom, but on the playground it's all English.  The kids really do use Spanish in the classroom, however, and the staff there are largely native speakers who address the kids in Spanish, so they really do learn Spanish, even if home life is all in English.  At Berkeley High, our daugher finished AP Spanish in 10th grade, so unfortunately she's just getting English now in her junior year.  Had she gone through the Berkeley Spanish immersion program, she'd be in the same situation.

Despite all these limitations, she is fluent in Spanish, and more to the point, she's bilingual.  That is, when she's speaking Spanish, she thinks in Spanish, and she sometimes dreams in Spanish.

I believe that if you continue to speak Spanish with your child, she will easily retain her Spanish, and may start school having more difficulties with English. The only downside is that, without schooling in Spanish, she may miss out on more formal language.  My daughter notes that her Spanish sounds very scholastic, and I've known people who spoke Spanish at home who complained that they only knew kids' Spanish.  You can address this by ensuring your daughter gets more formal language at home, by continuing to read with her during her school years, seeking out other Spanish-language media (movies, videos, magazines, newspapers), and pulling her into grown-up conversations.

I wish you success!  Your daughter's life will be richer for knowing two languages.

Hola! Nosotros estabamos en lo mismo, mi hija solo habla español pero en su daycare (que nos encanta) aunque las que cuidan hablan en español todos los niños hablan en ingles y ya esta empezando a aprender ingles de ellos. Yo tambien quiero alentar ese proceso todo lo posible pues se lo dificil que es que los chiquitos sigan con el español. Pronto se va ir a Centro Vida pero hemos estado en el waiting list desde antes que nació. Me encanta esa comunidad y te la recomiendo muchisimo pero no estoy segura si podrá entrar su hij@ dependiendo de la lista. Yo quería tener otra opción y la que más me gustó (por mucho!) fue Las Semillitas tengo una amiga (Mexicana) que tuvo a su hijo alli y le encantó. Hize todo el proceso con ellos (open house, etc.) y es una comunidad y escuela increible, basada en jugar (igual que Centro Vida), y lo muy diferente y lindo de Las Semillitas es que requieren que por lo menos un papa de cada familia hable en español y que lo hablen en casa. Tienen mucho enfoque muy lindo en nuestra cultura...por ejemplo en el open house tenian pan dulce. Esta un poco lejos (en Oakland) pero no hay trafico llendo para alla asi que hubieramos escojido esa escuela si no tuvieramos el espacio en Centro Vida. Si quieres una conección, avisame. Mucha suerte!!

Hi Ariela,

I am not fluent but have solely spoken 95% spanish to my 2.5 year old at home. He is outgrowing my husband's phrases and high school spanish. But we try as hard as we can, as non native speakers to speak as much Spanish as possible at home. So we are not in the same situation as you by any means. But I wanted to share and connect as I do hope to connect our kid with spanish speaking amigos along the way before kindergarten as we are also hoping to be a part of the two way immersion program.  

We currently are in a home based daycare right next to Centro Vida called Chairez Montessori. This is not an immersion or spanish speaking school. It is small, 12 kids, 0-5 years old and Lupe the lead teacher is mexican and speaks primarily to the kids in spanish. Or will translate both english and spanish. I am not sure this is what you are looking for but it is sweet and our 2.5 year old's spanish and english are developing. The play language is definitely english but I am ok with that especially as a non native speaker. I have also been following some bilingual mamas on instagram who have a lot to say on that and it seems pretty normal for the kids to play in a majority language. I am not sure this is the answer you are looking for but we also hope to access the two way immersion when it's time for Kindergarten. Centro vida also seems very sweet and I didn't know much about it until after we started at Chairez. 

If you would like to connect and see if our kids would play in Spanish or would like to chat more, I'd be happy to hear what you find as well!

Hi - I am reaching out because my son (4 years old) current dominant language is Spanish as well. My wife and I only speak Spanish at home and when we do playdates with other parents who do not speak Spanish, we speak a bit of English to him. He has been in preschool for about 1.5 years and at first there was a teacher that spoke to him in Spanish since he didn't understand English to well which helped him quite a bit. We felt that he didn't understand the other kids plus he was not able to communicate in English. On top of that, being at a new school with a whole bunch of other elements. In his second year, he does not have a teach that speaks to him in English but we continue to speak to him in Spanish at all time at home and outside the home. So far, he has continued to speak to Spanish at all times but his English has approved quite a bit. If you are able to send him to a preschool whose primary language is Spanish that would be great. We didn't go down that path since we didn't have the option due to distance and cost. I did come across Escuela Bilingue Internacional (they have a monthly story time via Zoom in Spanish which is great) located in Oakland/Emeryville. It looks like a great school but expensive from my perspective. Another choice that looks really good is La Plazita Preschool located in San Leandro and Oakland. Since my son is currently not going to a bilingual school, we will continue to speak with him in Spanish plus read to him in Spanish as well as watch movies. It also has helped him develop Spanish when we have traveled to Latin America. Let me know if you need any further advice. My wife and I are also looking to connect with other Latinx families who speak primary Spanish to their kids. We live in San Leandro so it would be great connect. Good luck!

My son has been at Centro Vida/Bahia since he was 2 (he’s now 4 1/2). We love it.  At 2 he was primarily spanish speaking and barely understood basic English. We wanted a Spanish speaking school because English was inevitable and wanted to emphasize on Spanish in his younger years. My partner and I speak Spanish at home and to our kiddo and English sometimes between just the two of us.

Its been amazing. Not just the teachers speak Spanish but a lot of the children are native Spanish speakers too. There are many latinx families and the school does a great job of highlighting latinx culture throughout the day to day and extra curricular happenings. Every year (it’s been modified with covid) they do a dia de los muertos celebration where families get to build their own altars and all get to mix and mingle and dance. This past year there were low riders, mariachis, great food, and more! They do a tamalada where families fundraiser for the school by selling tamales made by the parents! The children are fed breakfast lunch and snacks. All food prepared  by their amazing chef Maria is all latinx inspired. Seriously my son eats pozole on Monday and tostadas de frijoles y aguacate on Friday.

My kiddo’s naturally learned a lot of English because there are English speaking kids. However, his Spanish is dominant, and more than that he’s using phrases and words that I have to look up! 

Centro Vida/ Bahia has been amazing throughout the whole pandemic. Super transparent. Helpful with finding resources for testing and vaccination sites. Sending up updated policies and prosecutes and holding school wide zoom calls for parents monthly. Truly couldn’t be happier. They’re family.

good luck!

We are not native Spanish-speakers but I speak pretty well and have lived in Latin America, and I wanted our kids to learn Spanish. We sent our older son to Mi Mundo and although most kids speak English at home it is truly immersion - teachers only speak Spanish, including if the kids say something to the teachers in English, the teachers translate it back to them in Spanish. The kids speak English to each other but Spanish to the teachers, and our son was speaking it really well after two years. Our younger son is at Via Nova, which calls itself bilingual but it is definitely less than half in Spanish (we love it for other reasons, but this is a big downside).

If I were you I would do everything you can to keep up the Spanish until the TWI assessment - once your kid is into Sylvia Mendez, she'll get so much Spanish reinforcement, but if she doesn't test into the Spanish-speaking lottery it's very hard. My son tested in for TK, but then the pandemic hit and we couldn't find a way to keep it up and he didn't test in for K and we are really really sad about it - obviously our experience is different because we aren't reinforcing it well enough at home, but just wanted to reiterate how brutal the TWI lottery is!