Spanish for Children uses a classical approach coupled with technology and leavened with humor to teach Spanish to children in grades three and above. Primer A and Primer B are available thus far; Primer C will complete the series. Each should take one year to complete. If eighth and ninth graders aren’t put off by the title, you could even use both Primer A and B together as a two-semester course equivalent to a first year high school course. In Primer A, students learn over 300 Spanish words as well as present, preterit, and future verb tenses. Primer B adds the imperfect tense and other concepts such as reflexive pronouns and ending for verbs used as commands. Second person plural endings are taught as used in Spain although the distinctions of this and other regional usage differences are explained.
As you would expect from a classical program, Spanish for Children uses a grammatical approach rather than conversational, although it does include some conversation and encourages students to practice speaking as much as possible. The grammatical approach includes memorizing conjugations and declensions, partly by frequently chanting these and the vocabulary for practice. Lessons use a grammatical vocabulary, referring to the various verb tenses, parts of speech, and syntax. There is actually a great deal of instruction and comparison of English and Spanish grammar, so students learn quite a bit of English grammar in the process. While there is instruction and review for grammatical concepts, it might be difficult for a child who has little or no prior exposure to formal grammar to keep from feeling overwhelmed. If this is the case, grades four through six might be better starting points.
Classical Academic Press’s resources tend to be more humorous and creative than some other classical resources. Instructional portions of the lessons often have a humorous touch. On the optional DVDs where author Julia Kraut teaches each lesson, her animated personality and sense of humor are obvious. (The DVDs also have silly cartoon spots scattered between lessons.) Primer B has a puzzle to solve based on learning preterit forms throughout the course. Free supplements online at www.headventureland.com include the Flash Dash vocabulary quiz game, an animated story presented in segments corresponding to lessons in Primer A, the Chart Challenge game, and illustrated Spanish readers. Splicing (sometimes called diglot weave in other programs) is used in the DVD lessons, in the Headventureland animated stories, and in the optional Tin Bot story book. This technique mixes Spanish vocabulary with text written mostly in English to gradually teach Spanish vocabulary in context.
Lessons should take about one week each to complete unless you’re using the course with older students. Most lessons follow the same pattern. They introduce a few phrases, a brief conversational element, and the new chant and vocabulary to be memorized. Instruction in new concepts is next. This is followed with a few pages of worksheet exercises and a quiz. About every fifth lesson is an extensive review lesson. There’s a comprehensive review at the end of each Primer.
This is not a rigid program that always requires predictable answers, although that is true much of the time. However, some exercises have questions with a number of possible answers and even some that are open-ended. The answer key book for each course reprints the student pages then has overprinted answers for the teacher. When there are numerous possible answers, only examples of possible responses are provided. Because of this, parents and teachers really need to work through the lessons with students to be able to evaluate their answers. This also has the benefit of providing students with at least one conversational partner for speaking practice. Despite some ambiguity on answers for exercises, this is an easy-to-teach program, even for parents who don’t know Spanish. There’s no advance lesson preparation needed, although working through the lessons requires dedicated time.
The student book and answer key are essential components. For each course, there are optional sets of four DVDs featuring Julia Kraut teaching each lesson. Lesson presentations run about 20 minutes each. DVD sets also include one audio CD for Primer A and two audio CDs for Primer B with the chants presented by Julia and her responding students. Some chants are set to musical tunes for easier memorization. Julia’s presentation style is so delightful, that I highly recommend these to you if you can afford them. You can teach the course without them, but they are a worthwhile investment. Parents who do not already know Spanish should watch them with their students rather than trying to use them to turn the course into an independent study program.
Tin Bot is a very creative and interesting mystery story written in the spliced fashion described above. Written for beginners, the book has translations for the Spanish words footnoted at the bottom of each page. It is heavily illustrated with very creative artwork. Although the book is optional, I found myself reading it just for fun.
While all resources have no religious content, they are produced by a company with a Christian worldview.
In summary Spanish for Children is a comprehensive program that provides a solid grammatical foundation in Spanish. It is easy to use and relatively inexpensive for the core components.