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Risas y Sonrisas Spanish Program for Kids

By Leticia Smith

8650 Spicewood Springs #145-590
Austin, TX 78759

Risas y Sonrisas is a multi-sensory Spanish language program for children in the elementary grades. It was developed by Leticia Smith, a mother and native of Mexico. She taught Spanish classes after school and knew her teaching needed to be fun and effective for parents to continue to send their children. She taught in such an amazing way that her classes began to grow, and she ended up hiring more teachers. She went on to develop Risas y Sonrisas meaning "Laughter and Smiles" The program is now taught in elementary schools around the county and around the world.

Risas y Sonrisas offers two packages, one for the traditional classroom and one for homeschoolers. For $135 the Individual self study kit includes the following: Student Book with CD-Rom and Skits DVD, Music CD, Sing and Sign DVD, Cognate folder with pronunciation CD, Flashcard set, 162 cognate picture cards, and Instruction Manual.

The program starts out by teaching the Spanish pronunciations for vowels and consonants by using picture clues in the book. Each unit is introduced with a song that can be presented in three different ways: the CD-Rom (with students reading and singing along), the book and music CD (with students following along with the lyrics in the book), or the Sing and Sign DVD (with students learning the American Sign Language for the songs). The CD-Rom is a great tool in this program. At the main menu, students can choose to practice pronunciations, the songs, vocabulary, questions and answers, or conjunctions. If they choose to practice the songs, they can click on any line of the song to hear it sung. The pictures for the vocabulary are the same on the CD-Rom as they are in the book. To hear the word, simply click on the picture. The book and CD can be used together. As your students listen to the songs, they can follow along with the lyrics in the book while looking at the pictures for the vocabulary. The Sing and Sign DVD is a lot of fun. First, Leticia teaches the signs; then a class of children sings the songs while doing the sign language. The only thing I didn't like about the Sing and Sign DVD was that the signs weren't always taught very well, and it moved a little fast.

Games are a big part of the Risas y Sonrisas program. Many of the flashcards included in the kit are used for games. There are ideas for games given in the instruction manual. Some of the games require prep time. For example, one game is to play bingo with the vocabulary words. No bingo cards are included, so you have to make your own. Another game uses the domino cards that are included in the kit. On the top of the domino is a picture, and on the bottom is a word in Spanish that doesn't match the picture on the top. You then have to match the correct picture with the correct word.

To help develop conversational skills, Questions and Answers are included in each unit. Students learn a basic question and answer and then, once it is mastered, apply new vocabulary to it. At the end of each unit, students rehearse a skit that they've watched on the skits DVD. The skits cover the vocabulary and questions and answers cover in the unit. Each skit on the DVD is acted out by native speakers, with subtitles in Spanish. The book also has the skits written out.

I have really enjoyed using this program with my children. It isn't a dull and boring workbook program. There is always some kind of fun activity for the children to do. Learning Spanish is fun with this program, not a chore. The one drawback I found was that there are no lesson plans provided. You are only given ideas of what you can do, not a day-by-day guide. Because of this, it took me a while to get used to the program. On the other hand, since it isn't so rigid, you can really tailor it to your child's learning style. I think Risas and Sonrisas is an easy and fun way to learn Spanish.

Product review by Stacy Rocha, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, March 2010


Another review:

Risas y Sonrisas is an incredible program designed to teach Spanish to elementary-aged children. Leticia Smith created the program when she discovered a need for fun, comprehensive materials to help her teach Spanish in the classroom. Smith has done an amazing job putting together a multimedia package that is sure to help your children learn to speak and read Spanish.

Components for this program can be purchased separately or within a kit. I am reviewing the Individual Self-Study Program, which is designed specifically for homeschoolers. This kit includes a Student Book with a CD-ROM and Skits DVD, a music CD, the Sign and Sing DVD, a cognate folder with a pronunciation CD, a flashcard set, 162 cognate picture cards, and an instruction manual. This kit is quite a deal at only $135. The program covers 12 major vocabulary units, including numbers, food, house, farm animals, and clothes. There are also smaller units on the seasons, days of the week, colors, and pronunciation.

The Instructor's Manual is more of a guide to help parents use the different parts of the program in a way that works for them. Because this program can be used with children in grades K-5, you have the ability to truly tailor the curriculum to suit your child. For example, with my daughter, who is almost 7, I am mainly using the Student Book with its accompanying CD-ROM. As she becomes more confident, we will pull out the DVD and learn some sign language to go along with the vocabulary she has learned. Down the road, we will be able to use the flashcards and games as reinforcement. Then, when she is working towards mastery, we can use the Skits DVD, which will help her learn how to speak Spanish in conversation. I love how easy it is to help your child progress through this program. My daughter enjoys looking at the Student Book, with its beautiful pictures and cute illustrations. The pictures really help her remember letter sounds and new words.

The Risas y Sonrisas program is so easy to teach. To teach a lesson, all you need is the Student Book, a computer, and the CD-ROM. You are prompted in the book when it is time to listen to a particular word, phrase, or song on the CD-ROM. The CD-ROM is so helpful because your child has the opportunity to hear all the words pronounced by Leticia. Cognates (words that have the same root in Spanish and English) are used throughout the book to give children an easy way to learn and practice their pronunciation skills. Students are also given examples of conversational questions and answers in Spanish, which makes for a fun activity to practice with family members and friends. Cultural tidbits and historical facts are intermingled in the text of the book.

Though this is an exceptional program, there are a few improvements that could be made. If you are looking for structured lesson plans, you won't find them here. It would be nice to have more details to help guide parents and teachers through the lessons, as opposed to the general instructions given in the manual. I also was not very fond of the music on the CD, but it does the job of teaching vocabulary, so it's not that big of an issue. It's just not a CD that I would just place in the car to listen to as we are driving.

In all, I have to say that the Risas y Sonrisas program is one of the best I have seen for teaching elementary children Spanish. It encompasses all the things that children love--music, bright colors, funny pictures, games, and just plain fun. I will continue to use this program to help my daughter with this new language and encourage other homeschool families to do the same.

Product review by Jenny Thompson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2010

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