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Risas y Sonrisas 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