Every Friday morning at the Richmond Hill Public Library, more than a dozen kids gather around Cheyenne Kozaily to listen to her read classic childhood favorites, like Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.”
But there’s a twist. None of the books she reads are in English.
“Spanish is the nation’s second language, and being bilingual is an important skill for kids and families in the community to have,” said Kozaily, who is a Spanish instructor at Savannah Tech. “That’s why I started story time. To give families, regardless of income, an opportunity to hear and speak the language.”
Kozaily and her husband — who speaks five languages — are raising their 16-month-old son to be multilingual. She says Spanish story time exposes him to the language outside of the home and gives him the opportunity to interact with other multilingual children.
She started holding Spanish story time at the library in late June. The free 30-minute sessions, which start at 10:30 a.m., are geared toward children under 5, but are open to anyone who’s interested. No previous knowledge of Spanish is necessary.
“The focus is on the younger kids, but it’s open to all ages,” she said. “We’d never turn anyone away who wants to learn. It’s very interactive, kind of loud, and the kids can be rambunctious and just have fun.”
Librarian Shaina Whiddon said the program has proved popular with library-goers.
“It’s doing very well so far. Cheyenne has really big groups some days, and she does a good job. She uses music and props and toys and things, too. It’s a really fun program for the kids.”
Born in Newnan, Ga., Kozaily is not a native Spanish speaker. She learned the basics in high school and college but didn’t really embrace the language until she’d graduated and become a teacher, working with students whose families spoke little or no English.
She believes that learning to speak a foreign language later in life has helped her become a better teacher.
“When I’m teaching a non-native speaker, I understand what is going on in their brain as they’re learning. I understand second-language acquisition, and I think that is the No. 1 thing that helps me to be an effective teacher and consultant for bilingual families.”
In addition to holding weekly story time, Kozaily also offers one-on-one Spanish instruction and several classes for children, adults and individuals through her home-based business, called Lingüa. Classes are held at various locations in Richmond Hill, and fees range from $8-$20 per session.
“I believe in helping any multilingual family, whether they want to learn Spanish or keep their Spanish. I’m here to offer consulting and support for anyone who wants to learn to do that.”
For more information, email Kozaily at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website, www.bilingualfamilia.com, or Facebook page, www.facebook.com/lingua.U.