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Risas y Sonrisas Spanish Program for Kids Review by Tess Hamre

Leticia Smith
Spanish for Kids
(512) 219-0225
8650 Spicewood Springs #145-590
Austin, TX 78759-4399

I studied German and then French when I was in high school and college. I was not interested in Spanish. My daughter, however, seems almost obsessed with wanting to learn Spanish. We’ve been using Risas y Sonrisas, Laughter and Smiles, and my daughter begs to do Spanish. This comprehensive program provides students with context-rich and meaningful opportunities to both speak and hear Spanish. The program is enjoyable to use and easy to implement. For the first time in my life, I want to learn Spanish. This program is ideal for students in grades 3-5 but can be used to teach multi-levels. 

When I first opened the package, I was overwhelmed with the amount of materials included in the Risas y Sonrisas Homeschool Program for Kids. Thankfully, everything was contained in a reinforced zippered carrying case. I like having all the included materials in one place. The carrying bag contained the Homeschool Instructor’s Manual, a hardcover textbook which includes an interactive CD and a skits DVD, Activity Workbooks 1-4,  Music CD, Sign and Sing DVD, Cognate Picture Card set with folder and audio CD,  and finally a flashcard set. The Flashcard set includes  12 Domino Sets of 24 tiles, another 4 Domino Sets but of 12 tiles, and 9 Personal Pronoun Conjugation and Verb Word Cards.

The Risas y Sonrisas Spanish Program for Kids Homeschool Instructor Manual is a life saving coil bound tool containing far more than just detailed lessons plans. Ms. Leticia Smith details out what the instructor needs to know: how to present the material, how to use the material, and when to use the material. Also included are blackline masters and pages of games for practicing vocabulary.

The Instructor’s Manual explains the methodology of the program. The methodology involves three components: Pronunciation, Vocabulary, and Conversation. Pronunciation, according to Ms. Smith, is the “key to acquiring vocabulary.” She goes on to say Spanish pronunciation is one of the easiest things to learn. Cognates are words that are similar in both Spanish and English, but have different pronunciations. They are used to help teach and reinforce Spanish pronunciation. For students who are ready to read, the cognate cards are an effective tool to teach Spanish reading.

The beautiful, hardbound, full color student textbook contains eight chapters which are divided into four to seven units per chapter. The chapters include the lyrics for all the songs as well as additional pronunciation and grammar instruction. Every chapter contains a Did You Know section which provides cultural awareness by describing or focusing on some aspect of the  culture. In chapter one, we learn about how Hispanic cultures combine the mother’s last name with the father’s last name to form a name for their children.

The Scope and Sequence charts located on pages 43-46 of the Instructor’s Manual provide a helpful overview of how the program fits together. There are four modules. Each module covers the units from two chapters. The Scope and Sequence chart lists the unit, such as Pronunciation, and then lists the concepts taught, which songs are used and the related conversation questions and answers.

The Lesson plan section of the Instructor’s Manual details 80 lessons: 20 lessons per module. Each lesson is clearly laid out with objectives in a gray box at the top and three to four boxed sections that cover one concept. Lesson 10, for example, has four sections. Section one reviews the vocabulary the student is mastering: Numbers 1-10, Alphabet, Colors/Shapes, etc. Section two focuses on greetings and a skit while section three covers the cultural awareness point and section four introduces the writing journal. The writing journal is for students in grades 3-5.

Ms. Smith suggests classes meet for one hour twice a week for students in grades 3-5. She also states: “. . . for young children (non-readers), lessons have to be modified to adapt to their level.” Meeting for an hour at a time does not work for my daughter. She does much better with shorter, but more frequent instruction periods. Taking the advice to adapt to her level, I used the boxed sections as individual days so a lesson would take three to four days. I found repeating activities worked very well so one lesson would be stretched out over two to three weeks.

Some days we just listen to the songs or watch the DVD for the vocabulary. Other days we spend an average of 20 minutes working through one section of the lesson and listen to the Songs CD. A typical session might start with listening to the cognate CD and picking out the correct picture card and then completing activities or games in one section of the lesson plan. Some sessions, especially the ones involving listening to the interactive CD-ROMS, we would repeat on different days. Her progress is slow but steady. The repetition and the music help her to master the vocabulary. We move to the next lesson when I sense that she is bored and ready for new material to add to her repertoire. This combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities works well for my daughter who has learning difficulties and is cognitively delayed.

At first I did not understand the need for both a Songs CD and the Interactive CD-ROM. If they have the same material why would I need both? Though the material is the same, it is presented differently. The Song CD is the song: the full song with no breaks or pauses. You listen and you can sing along but it does not pause for the student to interact. The Interactive CD-ROM does not play the song straight through. Instead the song is divided into lines. You mouse over the lyrics and the CD-ROM plays it. This format allows the instructor to do so much more with the songs. You can repeat the line over and over for the student to repeat and practice that one line. For vocabulary you can hover over words out of order of the song to have the student locate and point to the appropriate flashcard or domino tile. After using both the Interactive CD-ROM and the Songs CD, not only do I understand the need for both, I am grateful for both.

My daughter and I are enjoying the program. It is pricey but I do recommend the full package including the flashcards,Sign and Sing DVD, and the Songs CD. This program is easy to teach though there is some teacher preparation required. For parents who do not speak Spanish and are not confident in their teaching ability, this is the program you want.

Product review by Tess Hamre, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2014

Another review:

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