Calico Spanish is an introductory online Spanish course for children in the primary grades. While it is advertised as a program for kindergarten through sixth grade, I think it is best for grades one through four. While children who have not yet begun to read can learn a great deal from the lessons, to be able to participate in all of the activities children should be able to write or copy words and recognize written Spanish words as they learn them. On the other end, I think the content seems too young for some fifth or sixth graders.
Using a conversational, multi-sensory approach, the course incorporates videos, music videos, flashcards, games (e.g., I Spy), activity sheets, storybooks, posters, and interaction to teach children an introductory vocabulary. Children learn to speak Spanish primarily by listening and responding. They learn to read and write Spanish to a much lesser extent. If they are able, they can read along with the videos, flashcards, storybooks, etc., but they can also learn by listening and watching. While activity pages require drawing and some writing, the amount of writing is very low.
Calico Spanish has three levels with eight, multi-part lessons in each. Level A has lessons for 82 days, Level B has lessons for 94 days, and Level C has lessons for 93 days. Doing Spanish lessons two or three days a week, you could complete one level per school year. However, your children might enjoy this so much that they might want to do Spanish every day!
Calico Spanish uses a conversational approach. While the program teaches specific vocabulary words, the dialogues and stories generally include additional words that students have not yet learned—an immersion approach, but on a very gentle level. Students will sometimes be able to figure out what all of the words mean but not always. They will gradually understand more and more.
The program uses a large amount of repetition and usage of vocabulary in different contexts so that children hear it over and over. Games and activities all reinforce learning, requiring oral responses from children rather than written most of the time. Students are not entering anything into the computer, so there is no tracking of student progress.
Colorful lessons feature cartoon characters such as the blue fish with yellow hair along with drawings of children, families, food, clothing, and home.
Lessons are laid out online in the exact order you will use each part. Videos, musical videos, storybooks, and even flashcards are presented every time they are used—no clicking back to the find the correct file unless you haven’t printed out the lesson guide. While lesson activities are presented in order, you can also go ahead or back to other lessons if you want to do so.
Posters are another helpful component of the program. I highly recommend either purchasing them or printing them out in color. Children will be using them as quick reference tools. For example, Level C has a poster showing rooms in a house with the rooms and some items such as “la mesa” (the table) identified. This and some other posters help children construct their own dialogues using words from the posters.
You will need to supply some additional items of your own such as resources needed for games, a stuffed animal, and crayons, but these items are likely already on hand.
This is an interactive course. Parents or teachers will lead students through the lessons, interacting with students as directed. Each day’s lesson has a link to its lesson guide near the beginning. You can view it on screen or print it out. I recommend the latter since it sometimes provides instructions for activities that will be done off of the computer. For most of the lesson you will just follow along on the screen. However, there are some activities that are explained only in the lesson guides. The lesson guides sometimes include explanations of grammatical points. Some of these are to be taught while other brief grammatical points might or might not be presented to students.
The guides as well as other lesson components such as flash cards and activity pages are all linked directly within the lessons with options to view them on screen or to download them. You will need to print out activity pages or else purchase activity books.
All of this is conveniently linked in the lesson, but the huge Resource section on the website has many of the lesson components in grouped files for easy access. For instance, you can find all of the music videos under one tab and all of the instructions for games under another tab.
While physical components can be purchased for use offline, Calico Spanish is so well designed as an online course that I would recommend using it online, perhaps purchasing flashcards since you are more likely to practice with them frequently offline than on. If you cannot print in color, you might want to purchase posters or activity books as well.
Calico Spanish requires some advance preparation for the games and activities, but the bulk of the teaching is done by the online resources. Parents and teachers provide practice and reinforcement through enjoyable activities.
Calico Spanish makes it easy for parents and teachers who do not know Spanish to help their children learn the language. The whole family can easily work together if you want. In fact, I recommend that as much of the family as possible participate since that will make the “practice” conversations and game playing even more fun for all.
A seven-day free trial (that does not require a credit card) gives you sufficient access to check out the program before subscribing.