Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish, Part II

There’s a lot of talk about tolerance in America and how we, in particular our schools, can make people more tolerant. You can’t make people more tolerant from the outside in. It’s more likely to happen from the inside out, and there is a perfectly sound, academically acceptable way to begin to foster tolerance in our schools from the inside out: foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten. Forget STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). There’s time for that later. (Neither Albert Einstein nor Isaac Newton flourished in their elementary math and science instruction, although I’ve read that Dr. Einstein learned French at a young age, had very little accent in the language, and was invited frequently to lecture in France, where he delivered the information in fluent French.) Foreign language acquisition promotes unity, brain development, and global competence.

In most American schools, learning a foreign language is a bottom priority and doesn’t truly begin until ninth grade (around age 15). So for all this talk about teaching kids tolerance (and for that matter, how to succeed in a global economy), we errantly save something that’s scientifically known to be best learned as a young child (which can promote tolerance and unity early on in an educationally appropriate manner) and shove it into the teenage curriculum. Think. What’s happening in the teenage years? At this time, kids are painstakingly trying NOT to be different! They just want a place to fit in.

Well, anyhow, my homeschooled kids are learning Spanish. It isn’t easy to track down tutors. It isn’t easy to keep them motivated. It isn’t easy to know what to tell the tutor to teach or how to teach it. But, my kids deserve, like most of the rest of the world, to know how to speak a couple of languages or more. I’d encourage the rest of you to call your local schools and start discussing academically legitimate ways to improve tolerance (don’t diss the other ways in any way, shape, or form–that won’t work), and I think early language acquisition is one of them. More rules won’t solve problems.

Okay. Enough on that. I want to share more on how we actually have implemented this Spanish curriculum. This is part two today. For part one, click here.

Where do you find tutors?

We chose the immersion method to teach our kids Spanish, which meant we simply needed a pleasant person who spoke Spanish and could interact with kids well.  My kids loved art, so the tutors would draw and color with them, naming colors, objects, and pictures as they went along. Sometimes, they’d go push them on the swings and describe the parts of the playground (swings, slides, sandbox). Sometimes they’d fly kites. But all of it was in Spanish. I didn’t want Spanish “class.” I wanted Spanish-speaking in life.

I approached many Spanish speakers I saw out and about, but I could see the thought of “teaching” intimidated them. It took persistent seeking to find someone willing to come be our Spanish tutor. Once they figured out all they’d have to do is play with my kids while speaking in Spanish, they didn’t mind.

Here are places and ways I have found Spanish tutors:

  • I have approached bank tellers with those little signs that read: “Se habla español.”
  • I have attended Spanish-speaking Sunday school classes and churches.
  • I have attended English as a Second Language classes that I found signs for at the library. I usually call and see if they need volunteers. If you get your foot in the door, you can meet Spanish-speaking students in the class who may reciprocate language instruction with you.
  • I have called a local university and asked to speak with the Spanish department head about potential students who may want to earn extra money tutoring.
  • I have asked the Spanish tutor we have to help us find another person if they have to leave.
  • Several of our tutors have been members of the local “International Club,” a club for people who move to our community from foreign countries, so this is a good place to ask.
  • I have asked the local Montessori school instructor. (Montessori schools are often multi-cultural.)

What did your Spanish teachers do?

My goal early on was immersion. Have the kids only hear Spanish with this person. What did they do? They played. Often my kids even picked the activity. I watched the kids for boredom or frustration during the “lesson” and guided them to different activities as needed. Many times, I got the tutor started on WHAT to do, letting them take over then as they figured out what I wanted. Some of our tutors have had their own unique ideas and after running it by me, did their own thing, and others liked it better if I told them what was on the agenda that day. I worked with the teacher’s style. Here are things I remember doing:

  • Playing on the swing set
  • Drawing (rooms of the house, gardens, and animals), labeling, and coloring
  • Flying kites
  • Having  tea parties
  • Planting seeds
  • Simple games like “Mother, May I” and “Simon Says”
  • Having competitions in the house among the siblings to see who can find objects fastest
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Classic children songs from the tutor’s childhood
  • Library books in Spanish
  • Flashcards
  • Spanish BINGO
  • Cooking food from the tutor’s homeland
  • Playing Barbies
  • Making plays in Spanish

How often did your tutor come?

Originally, all I could get was someone to come once a week as her work schedule allowed. As the years have passed, we have been able to find tutors able to come at a bare minimum of twice a week for two hours total a week. So my kids heard native Spanish at least two hours weekly in our home. Now, we are super lucky to have a friend who comes each day and speaks in Spanish with the girls.

Didn’t your children get frustrated when the tutor spoke only Spanish?

That was where my job came in. I almost always participated in the lessons. (I always asked the tutor if they preferred me present or not present. Usually they said they didn’t care. So then, I’d try it both ways and see which way my kids did better.) Not as a dictator, but more of an encourager, “Look we are in this together. I’m learning it too. We can do this,” and assistant teacher. If my children were getting frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed, I sensed it and could interpret or redirect as needed. Of course, I also asked the Spanish teacher to do that too, if they needed to. We had the best results when the tutor spoke entirely all in Spanish. My kids expected me to speak English and the tutor to speak Spanish.

How much did you pay?

This was greatly determined by the region of the country that I was living in, the year (prices go up as the years pass!), how much experience the tutor had, how many hours the tutor was going to come each week, how many kids I had at the time, and what the tutor was expected to do. I remember when a tutor asked for a certain price, and I was like, “Whoa! That’s a lot.” Then, I Googled it and saw that I was getting a bargain! Again, I think the price is greatly determined by your region of the United States. Our foreign language instruction does get the biggest chunk of our homeschool budget because I can’t teach it.


Well, I have more on this topic and will save it for another day. May you all be well and live well.


Illustration attribution: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

6 thoughts on “Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish, Part II

  1. EmilyMaine

    You are so right, it does foster unity. And I also have no idea why they don’t teach a language as part of the primary school curriculum. Seems ridiculous to me. Some schools have picked it up in the junior years here but def not all. Monkey is in his first year of school now and no language instruction. Boooo

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Good morning! Here, they have some immersion schools with either Chinese or Spanish in larger cities but those are few and far between. They are well-received but don’t fit enough students! Their waiting lists are long!

      The rage in public school education here is to move science and technology concepts earlier, which I argue comes from REAL play that kids do on their own (give them free time and raw materials—-sticks, blocks, wires, batteries, etc), not formal work. Formal work comes after they’ve manipulated their world, built ramps, rolled their Matchbox cars down them, broken sticks to see which ones break easier, mixed all kinds of stuff to see what forms from it. Let them have raw materials and let them play (and keep them safe and getting along, of course!!! 🙂 ). When they’re young, let them absorb and reflect back languages and music and stories! That’s what kids’ brains do best!

      I’ve found that in the young primary years, my kids only get what they get when it comes to formal school. I can’t help them get math any faster. I cant’ make them read any faster. I’ve tried. We ended up with tears and anger. Not cool. I waited, tried again periodically, and these things came. To me, it seems these things come developmentally and pushing harder or even teaching it in a different way, which may work in high school, does not work well in the primary years. (I could write a longer essay on the “teaching it in a different way” because my statement does not accurately express what I mean, but I’ll leave it short and incomplete for now.)

      I say we’re wasting precious time that could be capitalized on by moving more foreign language immersion to our young kids. Kids are just amazing. They love to sing songs in foreign languages. They love to play games (and these can all be played in a foreign language). They are sponges.

      I’m done now! Enjoy watching Monkey grow! One day, you’ll turn around and he’ll be 13 like my oldest! But I like it!

      1. EmilyMaine

        I only just logged back into this account after a long hiatus and am enjoying reading some of your replies I’ve missed. I’m pleased to say that Monkey now gets French (we moved schools this year – Year 2) and Baby Sister has a Spanish childcare teacher who teaches them songs and words in Spanish so that makes me very happy. It could be more but it’s better than nothing. And I tend to agree that the formal stuff seems to be developmentally linked.

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Welcome back, Em! That’s so cool that they’re getting foreign languages. I really, really think the exposure to the sounds a at young age makes such a difference!

        I’m on post-writing hiatus. Took on a couple other big jobs. But I can’t wait to come back and read and write.

        Cheers! And good tidings!

  2. Home Grown Spanish

    ‘I am teaching my daughter Spanish and I am not a native speaker. I worry about her accent, however, I use a lot of learning material with native speakers. She picks up accents well and her ability to mimic the sounds she hears from native speakers is incredible and enviable. It is frustrating at times, but I know in the long run it will be worth it.


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