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Spanish For You! Fiestas Curriculum Package Review by Tracey Masters

Debbie Annett
Spanish for You!

It is imperative that children learn a second language in today's society. It raises cultural awareness and appreciation in our world. There are also many educational benefits to learning another language, which leads toward greater achievement in other subject areas. Learning a second language is a valuable skill for any child's future. We live in a highly populated Spanish speaking area and I want my daughter to be able to communicate with everyone in her community. My goal is to cultivate a strong desire for her to become a lifelong learner of the Spanish language. Therefore, we began introducing foreign language studies at a very young age.

I received the Spanish for You! Fiestas Curriculum Package to review which is a unique Spanish program created by Debbie Annett. It was developed for use in either the homeschool environment or for classroom purposes. Debbie Annett has been a Spanish educator for more than 13 years, teaching children in first grade through high school. She has worked with homeschool families over the years. Spanish for You! follows a thematic or unit study approach unlike any traditional textbook approach that I have seen. This product is suitable for children in 3rd-8th grade. The curriculum teaches receptive language skills such as listening and reading while slowly engaging the child in expressive skills such as speaking and writing. Debbie has experienced success in the classroom with teaching children how these components work well together leading towards a better understanding of the language. The curriculum is based upon a combination of different foreign language approaches including but not limited to TPR (Total Physical Response), the Natural Approach, and traditional Direct Instruction methods.

I received the 45-page soft cover book with a stapled binding in hard copy format along with downloadable zip files in PDF and MP3 format. You will need a program that reads MP3 audio files and updated version of Adobe Reader. The curriculum includes clear audio files of the book read aloud by Seora Debbie. The PDF files consist of leveled self-checking worksheets and three leveled lesson guides. The archived worksheet file contains numerous practice sheets including the following formats: fill in the blank, word search, matching, write to respond, circle the correct answer, copywork, scrambled words, drawings, chart completions, tic-tac-toe boards, and the ever so popular question and answer format. You can try sample curriculum worksheets and mini lessons online. The lesson guides are organized into three grade levels 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8 each level progresses in difficulty. The worksheets are organized by lesson noting the appropriate grade level in the title. The higher-grade level material leans more on the writing and reading intensive side requiring more independent thinking and less parental assistance. The Fiestas lesson guide lasts 30 weeks for grades 3-4 and 24 weeks for grades 5-8 meaning one book covers an entire school years worth of lessons.

There are currently two books to choose from including Fiestas and Estaciones. The books can be completed in any order. Another book, Viajes, is in the works and trial weeks are available to purchase on their website. I used this product on a MAC computer with Safari as my Internet browser and iTunes to listen to the MP3 audio files. Make sure you familiarize yourself with MP3 reader so that you can pause lessons when necessary. I was unable to pause the audio in the beginning until I actually took the time to learn more about iTunes. This curriculum and its components will also work on a PC computer.

Bonus support materials are included in this package. You will receive black and white flashcard illustrations and audio files of the book read aloud by a native speaker. This enables the child to hear the pronunciation and dialect of a native speaker at a faster pace. The flashcard pictures are utilized quite often during game time and interactive vocabulary lessons. Black and white illustrations limit the amount of ink used while offering children the option of coloring them. The bonus flashcards saved us so much time because she didn't have to draw every picture, which would have taken my detail-oriented daughter a lot of time to complete. The illustrations enable the child to connect the meaning to the word. In addition to all the material and bonuses, everyone has access to the website which is chock-full of a variety of game ideas requiring minimal, if any, prep work. The materials needed are most likely already in your home. Many games found on the website are interwoven in the book's lessons. Several additional games can be found on the website. All games are complete with printable instructions. I was thrilled to see that many of the games include variations or alternate methods to play. These suggestions make it possible to differentiate learning on another level. The games captured my daughter's attention. Her favorite games were Memory, Hangman, Bingo, Cual Falta?, Frio y Caliente, Burbujas, and the Listen and Draw Activity. We could easily switch out one game for another if too many people were required to play a particular game.

The lessons are divided into five topics or fiesta units each covering a different cultural component relevant to Spanish-speaking countries: The Birthday Party, Day of the Dead, Carnival, Holy Week, and April Fair. The curriculum scope and sequence is quite impressive covering the basics such as the alphabet, numbers, commands, and common words or phrases related to the celebrations studied. The curriculum also covers more advanced concepts such as verb conjugates, demonstrative adjectives, possessives adjectives, definite articles, plural forms, adjectives, direct object pronouns, personal pronouns, present progressive, and comparing objects. Each lesson introduces a new set of vocabulary terms, verbs, and focuses on several grammar concepts. The guide contains suggestions for making and practicing flashcards in a more interactive manner while playing purposeful games to help children learn Spanish naturally. There were optional extension activities or projects included in the guide that enrich the study such as making sugar skulls, creating a Day of the Dead altar, making Day of the Dead flowers, and creating a small pirata filled with candies. These activities make the vocabulary learned more meaningful to the child.

It is intended that Spanish for You! be used four times per week for 10-30 minutes each day. Each cultural unit included weekly guides that were broken down into four days so the parent or student knows what must be covered every day. The author suggests that the lessons could be done twice a week if necessary and even once a week in a co-op setting. One thing I loved about the curriculum was the flexibility. You set the schedule by deciding how long your child will study Spanish and how many days per week. You can tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of your children. Some days we completed four lessons a week and other days we extended lessons. The lessons presented in the book spiral and must be followed sequentially (in the order presented) since the lessons build on one another. For example, while learning about The Day of the Dead previously learned vocabulary and skills from the birthday lessons were reiterated and continuously reinforced throughout the book. We used the lesson guide and worksheets meant for children in 3rd - 4th grade as indicated in the guide with an occasional adaptation for my four-year-old daughter. My husband also participated in a few lessons. As much as my husband wanted to continue the lessons, he couldn't due to schedule conflicts. He believes that the curriculum would serve as a great self-study or introductory program to use in the future preparing him for more difficult courses down the road.

The curriculum is adaptable and can be easily modified for younger children. The author's expectation for younger children is exposure and not necessarily mastery. Grammar concepts will be gently introduced but your child will need ample amount of time to master the grammar concepts. The lessons can be spread out over a longer period, you can do less or more writing, play more games, have them listen to the audio more often than scheduled, lessons or responses can be verbalized, or you can require the child to verbalize their responses instead of writing them. The parent can also make the flashcards instead of requiring younger children to handwrite them. If your child has the ability to write independently, keep in mind that the more you do for children, the less they will absorb on their own. Making the flashcards enhances the writing aspect of the curriculum. My daughter, even though very young, was able to make the flash cards. It took much longer than expected, but she had pride in making the materials herself and she was able to practice her writing skills. Creating the flashcards without assistance helped her remember the meanings of the words associated with the illustrations.

The short, quick lessons worked well in our homeschool environment. My daughter was learning and retaining the vocabulary words and phrases each week before moving on to the next lesson. The repetitiveness and built-in review was beneficial and allowed her to master the lesson's vocabulary in a short amount of time. Several of the concepts were review for my daughter but with young children repetition helps solidify learning. I appreciated the emphasis on the cultural components and traditions. It is difficult to find a Spanish curriculum that teaches authentic information and vocabulary related to the culture of Spanish speaking individuals while still covering pronunciation, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, syntax, and more. I also noticed that my daughter attempted to speak Spanish more often in public beginning conversations with employees at restaurants and in stores.

The guide indicates that the worksheets and audio files are clearly labeled yet I found it difficult at times locating the worksheet material necessary for each lesson. I think the worksheet files could be more organized for the user and easier to locate if grade levels are separated into individual folders. It is also easier to locate materials when files match the text order exactly eliminating the need to search through each lesson reading every worksheet title to find the worksheet necessary. Having flashcards that contain the words and text would enable younger children to participate in lessons while reducing the time spent creating them. This gives parents the option to differentiate by having their children handwrite or print the cards depending on their age or grade level. Several games may be more appropriate for larger families with multiple children such as "Around the World." These games might need game substitutions or modifications for families with only one child. The audio files were occasionally too fast for my daughter. I do wish the curriculum included posters, recipes, more craft ideas, game boards and templates, verb charts, library literature suggestions, maps, video clips, internet links to meaningful content, and more songs with lyrics. Singing Spanish songs was one of my fondest memories when learning Spanish in middle school and high school. You will also need to spend some time researching books and online resources to supplement the cultural component of the curriculum. I prefer these resources to be readily available within the curriculum for ease of use. There is, however, a short informative blurb about each celebration at the beginning of the guide. The parent should encourage and practice conversational skills several times throughout the day utilizing the vocabulary otherwise the speaking activities are limited in the book. The book does contain conversation activities that exhibit the child's understanding and speaking skills through dialogue also known as question and answer format.

Spanish for You! is a reasonably priced curriculum compared to other curricula on the market costing merely $64.95 for the complete package designed for 3rd-8th grade students. It is also now available as split grade level packages for $39.95 making it even more affordable and valuable for families with multiple children working at the same grade level. Purchasing all the grade levels at once is obviously more cost-efficient in the long run. Furthermore, the recent budget-friendly price arrangement meets the needs of families with fewer children wanting to try a new curriculum or approach while limiting the cost up front.

I recommend Spanish for You! to families looking for a kid-friendly, step-by-step Spanish language curriculum that allows for a more independent study approach with a manageable pace and workload. In fact, I was not as involved as I usually like to be in the lessons; I actually felt more like a facilitator and partner game player. The parent can guide the child or participate more depending on their circumstances. This product can be used with homeschool families that have very minimal, if any, background with the language. You do not need to speak or know Spanish to use this curriculum. The audio teaches proper pronunciation allowing the parent to learn the language with their children. This curriculum could definitely be used in a group setting including classrooms (private and public), co-op groups, after school care, or possibly in a tutoring setting. I do feel that individuals using a Charlotte Mason or unit study teaching approach may find this curriculum of ideal interest. The lessons are short and the topics are studied using a thematic unit approach based on cultural elements. The curriculum addresses a variety of learning modalities making the curriculum more usable to families because not all children in the same family have the same learning style or preferences. Overall, this one-year curriculum was well written and is a good value for the price. My daughter shocked me with her intense participation and the delight she had towards this curriculum. She was responsive, engaged in the activities, and learned essential Spanish that will hopefully help her gain fluency.

Product Review by Tracey Masters, Veteran on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2013