Risas y Sonrisas Spanish for Kids is a multi-sensory, conversational Spanish course that might be used from preschool through the elementary grades. While the program is designed primarily for children who are able to read, non-readers can still learn a great deal through the songs, games, and signing, so this course works especially well if you are teaching children in the elementary grades, but have preschoolers or kindergartners who participate to a lesser extent.
This is a true multi-sensory program. Children learn through music, play, listening to and watching practical conversations, movement (including sign language), the use of color, pictures, reading, speaking, drawing, and writing. Lessons cover the basics such as numbers, colors, shapes, family, seasons, weather, time, and greetings, as well as themes including the human body, school, food, the house, opposites, verbs, animals, occupations, places, and clothing. Each chapter includes a skit that combines vocabulary with conversation and a “cultural point” such as a page that tells about piñatas.
The Individual Self Study version that is designed for use by homeschoolers is a smaller version of the original classroom program. It will work for teaching one to four students, although you will need extra sets of student workbooks for each additional child. The program is ideal for at least two students since there are interactive skits and other games and activities that are best done by two or more students. However, many of these can also be done with only a parent and one child—it’s just not as much fun.
The Individual Self Study program includes an instructor’s guide, a hardcover book that includes both a Conversation Skills DVD and an interactive CD-ROM, four activity workbooks, Sign & Sing Songs to Learn Spanish DVD, a music CD with 39 songs for learning Spanish, a cognate picture cards set, a Cognate Folder with Pronunciation CD, and an extensive flash card set with 14 vocabulary dominos and personal pronoun conjugation cards.
As you can see, there are many components, but it is important to understand that you need not use everything. Some resources and activities will suit children with different learning styles. For example, the Sign & Sing Songs to Learn Spanish DVD teaches the alphabet, numbers, words, and sentences covered in the program with American Sign Language (ASL) and songs; teaching sign language is optional and will appeal to some parents and not others. You might use the DVD to help learn the songs but skip learning ASL.
The instructor’s guide explains the program, shows you how to prepare your materials, has instructions for games, and provides an overview of lessons. New lesson plans for the Individual Self Study program are in the works and will be available in March 2013. The preview set I saw was extremely helpful for knowing what to use when.
The beautiful hardcover book is printed in full color with great illustrations throughout, and it covers all of the course content.
The interactive CD-ROM packaged within the book has five sections. The first section covers pronunciation of some of the unusual Spanish letters and sounds. The second section takes 39 Spanish songs and presents them one line at a time to make it easier for children to learn them bit by bit. (Note that the same 39 songs are presented in a normal fashion on the Songs to Learn Spanish CD.) The third section presents the vocabulary words for each topic with illustrations and pronunciations. The fourth section presents the conversational question and answer sets taught in the lessons. The last section presents verb conjugations in the past, present, and future tenses with personal pronouns.
The Conversation Skills DVD has native Spanish speaking children and adults acting out skits with Spanish subtitles provided. The scripts are also in the book and workbooks with English translations. The actors speak quickly so it will be necessary to sometimes pause the video to be able to follow the conversation and perhaps read the translation from one of the books. If children have studied a conversation in the book before watching the DVD, they should be able to follow much more easily. The conversations are important since they give students a feel for how the language is actually spoken.
The four workbooks each have about 45-47 pages. These are heavily illustrated but are printed in black and white. The level of difficulty increases only slightly when students build picture sentences at the end of workbooks 3 and 4. Children draw, write words, circle the correct answers, do syllable match-ups, unscramble letters of Spanish words, and write short phrases and sentences. Workbooks include pages that show the vocabulary for each chapter as well as the conversation skit scripts and song lyrics. It looks like students have all of the “reference material” they will need within the workbooks so they do not have to refer back to the hardcover book. This should make it possible to purchase only extra workbooks and no extra hardcover books for students in the same family.
Learning cognates—words that are similar in both English and Spanish—makes it easier to pick up a beginning vocabulary in Spanish. The cognate picture cards set, cognate folder, and Cognate Folder Pronunciation CD help accomplish this. The instructions encourage you to have children create a writing journal using the simple sentences they learn and the cognate picture cards to come up with vocabulary words they can easily substitute into sentences such as, “Mi animal favorito es….”
The cognate picture cards as well as the other “flash cards” are printed in full color on perforated, heavy card stock; you will need to separate the cards before using them. The flash cards include “domino” tiles for children to match pictures to words for vocabulary practice. I think this is a great idea! Two sheets of cards are used as manipulatives for practicing selection of the proper conjugation of verbs and the correct pronoun forms. Instructions for additional games with the dominoes and building picture sentences are in the instructor’s guide. (While some basics of grammar such as conjugations are covered, this is really a conversational course.)
The publisher’s website also has additional password-protected online resources. Subscribers receive easy access to all the multimedia in the program plus interactive vocabulary games. An access license can be purchased either for a month or a year at a time.
Program components can be purchased individually. With younger children, you could begin with only the hardcover book (which includes a CD-ROM and a DVD) and the Songs CD. However, it probably makes the most sense to purchase the Individual Self Study program and, as the child grows, gradually introduce components that involve reading and writing.
Note: Risas Y Sonrisas has posted two free YouTube videos you can watch for free. You will get an idea of the quality of the program from them, but these videos on Verbs and Wild Animals are great vocabulary building tools even if you don't use this particular program.