Music, Movement, & Español

local educator uses the building blocks of music and dance to teach Spanish

Lindsey Quinnies, photos by Andrea Paulseth

¡Olé!  Anita Wahl teaches Chippewa Valley kids numbers, colors, descriptive words and more in Spanish through music, singing, and physical activities.
¡Olé! Anita Wahl teaches Chippewa Valley kids numbers, colors, descriptive words and more in Spanish through music, singing, and physical activities.

Anita Wahl – or as she is called by her fans, Miss Anita – teaches music and movement alongside the Spanish language to kids ages 1 through 12. A native of Waunakee and a graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in international relations, Wahl has traveled extensively to Uruguay, Denmark, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, and more. Eventually, she settled in the Chippewa Valley to assist with a youth mission group in Chetek. Now, she says, “I love the north woods.”

She was initially certified to teach Musikgarten, an approach that melds music and movement. After doing music and movement with the goal of classical ear training, toning, and rhythm, Anita recognized it was a great way for kids to learn Spanish. As a mother of four, a piano teacher for more than 20 years, and the leader of several youth mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries, she had the experience for it.

“I’ve always loved learning Spanish and music, both, and when I took my kids to music art and classes, I loved it,” she said. “I loved the experience with your child. … That’s what I offer that most people don’t. They learn lots of Spanish through the songs.”

The combination of these experiences inspired Anita to begin collecting tons of Spanish learning CDs, and she noticed a niche for the type of learning she was hoping to offer. In turn, she started writing her own songs, some with familiar kid tunes, and some totally original.

Why teach Spanish like this? “Music evokes movement, stimulates the brain, fosters physical coordination, and immerses the child in language,” Anita said. “Music’s melodic and rhythmic patterns also stimulate neural pathways that develop memory, math skills, and abstract thinking.” Kids pick up information more quickly when they’re younger, she adds. And the goal? As a seasoned mission-tripper herself, her eventual hopes are to get more people excited about Spanish and then go experience other cultures.

Anita teaches classes at day cares, elementary schools, libraries, the Eau Claire Music School, Lily Pad Lab, and in homes. A typical class, which the kids clearly love, includes passing around instruments, dancing, singing along to songs with Anita’s guitar (the kids’ favorite), and practicing rolling their Rs – a “holistic comprehension.” Some of her favorite memories are being enthusiastically greeted by the kids’ beaming faces (“MISS ANITA!”) on multiple occasions and being thrilled by just how much Spanish they actually learn and remember.

With the success of her classes and ideas and the help of her engineer husband (who made the recording “sound good”), Anita has been able to record and release two CDs for kids showcasing her upbeat, educational tunes. She plans to release a third CD, En La Playa, before May. The new album will feature Spanish cultural songs and action songs to get kids moving.

Although most of her classes focus on children, Anita hopes in the future she can integrate more parents into her classes: “I would like to see more parent/child opportunities where they can learn with their parents. I’m really excited about them learning something together and the bonding and experience of that. I want them to just have fun and experience the rhythm and the music and learn lots of Spanish; and to get excited about learning about other cultures and to have confidence.”

Aside from those future plans, Miss Anita also hopes to expand her teachings by making available a week-long summer day camp in the Wissota Woods near her Chippewa Falls home, which would offer hands-on art, cooking, and other activities that involve speaking Spanish all day. For a full schedule of classes, rates, and information about registration, visit her website:  AnitasMusicandSpanish.com.

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