A new program at the Children's Museum of La Crosse is helping kids get ahead, and opening their eyes to a new world.
3-year-old Adela Piggush is one of those kids who is taking the weekly Toddler Spanish class.
"It was a good effort to try and introduce her to something beyond our norm," says her mom Beth Piggush, who never learned a second language herself.
They're having some fun and learning a ton, mainly the session theme of animals and colors.
"The fact that she recognizes pieces and in just random conversation will say a color or animal on her own. It's been fun to hear that," Piggush says of her daughter.
Kids ages two through five-years-old take part in each month-long session. The class gets together once per week for about an hour. The program's teacher says it's a way for them to get used to hearing the Spanish language.
"It's really about getting them into a room and getting them excited with other kids. And letting them hear those words and start to get comfortable with it," says Meg Steuer, the Visitor Services Coordinator at the museum and teacher of the Toddler Spanish program.
The class is filled with reading, singing, dancing and some snacks mixed in. It's a perfect recipe for success.
"At four, to have learned this much in four weeks, it's crazy to see what they learn. And sometimes I'm amazed," says Steuer, who started learning Spanish in middle school.
The program is an opportunity for children to expand their minds, even before most of them step into a regular classroom.
"Right now, even in English they're learning. Everything is interesting to them. They're curious. They want to learn. It's not school to them. It's fun and it's interesting. Right now they're just capable of taking it all in," says Steuer.
Research shows that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems. But it's not just the cognitive benefits that come from learning a second language at a young age that has Adela and her mother showing up every week.
"It's exposing her to more of a world view, and having that. Even in Southwest Wisconsin it's important to be exposed to things," says Piggush. "Hopefully it's something that she can carry throughout her school years, and as an adult be able to speak a language, even though her mom can't."
For years, local elementary school aged kids have been able to get a head start at learning Spanish by attending North Woods International School in La Crosse. The school offers Spanish exploration and Spanish partial immersion programs to introduce students to the language.
The museum's program helps kids get started even earlier, when their minds are more receptive to learning a new language.
"I think learning at this age, especially when they're able to continue it all through elementary school, middle school, and high school, they're able to make those comparisons. They can really better themselves in every subject, not just Spanish," says Steuer.
The final Toddler Spanish session of the spring begins April 3. The session's theme is "Food y la Familia." Classes are every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
For more information you can log on to www.funmuseum.org.