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'It's cool -- it's fun' to be in pre-K as skills in Spanish and signing receive nurturing

Sebastian Fisher may only be 4 years old, but he already has a leg up on a lot of adults when it comes to his communications skills.

He speaks English. He's learning Spanish. He knows how to use some sign language.

And he's not alone among the prekindergarten set in the Orleans Day Care Center in Shelby, near Medina.

Pre-K teacher Cheryl Olsen has been giving lessons in Spanish and sign language to her pupils for the last seven years.

Little Sebastian is among those she has captivated.

He doesn't know why he likes Spanish, he says, but "it's cool -- it's fun to know how to say something different."

"I feel children should be exposed to as many things as they can be," Olsen said. "It helps them express themselves a little better. It also helps them build confidence in themselves, because it shows they can learn new things, and, hopefully, will encourage them to try new things in the future.

"They like learning sign language and Spanish. They're proud of it, and intermingle them with English as they go through their day."

When a fiftysomething reporter entered their classroom recently, 5-year-old Justine Sargent pointed and yelled out, "abuelo" to her classmates. The word means grandfather in Spanish. Her friends understood.

Even in silence, these 4- and 5-year-olds make connections.

When a pupil took a toy away from another when he shouldn't have, the little transgressor moved a fist in circles over his heart as he signed, "I'm sorry."

Sebastian said you have to apologize when things like that happen because it hurts people's feelings and makes them "sad."

As he said "sad," he also signed the word.

Others demonstrated how to sign other words:

* Think -- pointing a finger to the side of the head.

* Sleep -- pulling a hand down over your face while closing your eyes.

* Cry -- pulling spread fingers down from your eyes.

* Hurry -- pumping your fingers on both hands alternately up and down.

* Thank you -- sort of like throwing a kiss.

* Please -- rubbing your tummy.

* Baby -- making a cradle with both hands and arms.

The vocabulary of the children is still limited, but they can rattle off Spanish words when Olsen shows them picture cards.

"Tio," Logan Reece, 4, calls out as he sees a picture of an uncle.

Olsen switches to colors, and Evan Dodge, 4, says "azul" when a blue card is displayed. They all yell "amarillo" when the yellow card pops up.

The pre-K class is held on the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services' Shelby Basin Road campus.

"It's pretty amazing to see these little kids doing the hand signs and speaking Spanish," BOCES Day Care Director Jamie Lubs said. "But it makes sense. They absorb information so quickly. It's easier for a child to learn a language than an adult. Their minds are like sponges. They soak up everything."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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