Tag Archives: homeschooling spanish

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.

Part 6 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Dos Idiomas

Dos idiomas.  Two languages.  Spanish and English.  Like the Dora song.

Catchy music:  “I speak Spanish.  And English too.  I like them both.  What about you?”

We use a completely multi-modal approach to Spanish, focusing on speaking, not grammar.

Why teach a foreign language at a young age?  So they have twice as much to say, of course!

Objective:  Spanish (and English) fluency by junior high, with choice of a third language to be studied in high school.


Native Spanish speaker tutor twice weekly for one hour:  I read somewhere, don’t know where, that in order for a child to achieve language fluency, they need to hear a native speaker at least twice weekly.  We have found that our children’s Spanish improved by leaps and bounds when a Spanish teacher spends two hours a week immersing them.  I request that the Spanish teacher only speak Spanish, unless she sees severe frustration signs from the child.  I don’t care what the teacher does.  Each one has done different things with them.  Crafts.  Drawing.  Worksheets.  Reading aloud.  Starting seeds.  Flying a kite.  Flashcards.  Identifying toy foods.  Naming dinnerware.  Show and tell.  Mother May I?  Simon Says.  Candy Land.  But please speak in Spanish.

Parents endeavor to become more fluent in Spanish themselves:  Fourth year of medical school is the best year of your life.  The pressure is lifted as your staff doctors allow you to dedicate yourself towards getting accepted into your chosen specialty.  Some time is freed up.  Some medical students decide to have babies that year.  I decided to learn Spanish.  In Indiana, we were seeing huge numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants who did not understand English.  What to do?  Learn Spanish!  My husband and I both worked to learn the language, and we still work to do so.  We use the broken Spanish we have around the house.  Smatters of Spanish.  Smatters of English.  Spanglish at its best.  The Spanish teacher (not tutor–my kids hear “tooter”–like in flatulence) helps me as much as the kids.  Our current Spanish teacher is great at forcing us to use our Spanish, as she has only been here in the United States for a couple of years.  Learning English is fresh in her brain.  She likes to torture us willing Americans by forcing us to use her beloved Spanish.  My husband and I used to talk in Spanish when we didn’t want the kids to understand.  That really motivated the girls to learn quickly so they could understand our secrets.  Another thing we do is attend the Spanish-speaking Sunday school class at church.  Talk about humbling.  My Spanish is probably at the level of a three-year old.  Unfortunately, it’s an adult class.  Oh!  Are they really saying something?  I just thought they were speaking in tongues!  Pardonnez-moi!  No.  Non.  Perdon!  Yeah.  That’s right.

Spanish CDs in car: 

  • We listen to Boca Beth .  We bought ALL of the Boca Beth CDs and DVDs.  If they were records (anyone know what I’m talking about here?) they’d have grooves lined in them.  Beth’s a Southerner speaking Spanish.  I always wondered how that sounded.  Now I know.  Beth piggy-backs the two languages (English and Spanish) in the exact same song.  Back-to-back right there together in your brain.  The phrases and subjects she chooses are common and useful.  Her customer service is impeccable.  Once I had to call her help-number when the internet wasn’t working right and my order was messed up.  Oh, my!  I got to talk to Boca Beth!  She answered the phone!  I told my girls and we all swooned!  Anyhow, she is clearly a Christian, and I know that may deter some of my atheist/agnostic friends (yes, I’m a Christian failure–I have some of those around still)–but I have to say that the material is SO good and she does not preach to you (or your kids).  Most CDs have no mention of Christianity so just steer away from those that do if it bothers you that much.  So really, check it out–Christian and non-Christian alike–let’s learn together!  I highly recommend Boca Beth.  You can see clips on You Tube too if you want a sample.
  • We also listen to Professor Pocket’s Silly Farm Adventure in the car.  Another great CD to play in the car.  However, it seems that it may be out of print and costs a pretty penny.  But if you can find it on the cheap, worth buying.  Or if you have some extra curriculum cash lying around it’s probably worth it.  They incorporate English conversation between an unaccented English (but clearly bilingual) speaker and an accented, native bilingual speaker.  Parts of their English conversation is repeated by the native speaker in Spanish.  The songs are in Spanish and fun, fun, fun.  If you don’t know any Spanish, you won’t always know what the songs are saying.  As we learn more and more Spanish, we understand more and more of the songs.  But the songs are super catchy.

Spanish DVD Programs:

  • Boca Beth has some great DVDs that mirror the songs on her CDs.  And you can order this silly, cute little puppet that the children, for some reason, love.  His name is Boca (Spanish for mouth) and he is seen in the DVDs.  My kids get their “Boca’s” out when we watch the DVDs.  We bought all the DVDs.  Her personality is contagious, and I just love to watch her dance and smile.  It’s infectious!  She seems to be just one of those people.
  • La Clase Divertida  (click on the name to pull it up) is another Spanish curriculum we invested in.  I picked it up back at a South Carolina Homeschool convention.  I actually met Senor Gamache there.  So cool.  Forget all these other superstars!  To talk to Boca Beth and meet Senor Gamache, well, that’s the tops.  We have purchased the first two levels.  Each level has a DVD with about 15 or so lessons.  The DVD lessons cover language, culture, and an activity.  Besides the language DVDs, included in the boxed kits are workbooks and items needed to complete a craft.  It’s a nicely packaged curriculum.  We like it a lot.  We used it when the girls were 5 and 3, but since they were too young to write, we just stuck with the craft and watching the DVD lessons.  We redid the first boxed kit earlier this year, and we sped through it (girls were 8 and 6).  We bought the second level, and it ramps it up a lot.  Wished there was a bit of a middle ground between the first and second levels.  We have taken the second level more slowly.  Senor Gamache’s curriculum is also from a Christian world view, which may bother some.  But again, a good curriculum is a good curriculum, and this is a good one.  My kids look at him and say, “He’s nice.”  As if they even know him.  Whatever.
  • Whistlefritz makes bilingual DVDs.  We have purchased one of them:  Inside and Out.  We liked it, particularly my 4 year old. I notice she really picks up the accent and calls the little mouse “Freetzie”  even though you and I want to say the short I sound, “Fritzie.”  So that’s worth something.  My older kids watched it a couple of times, and they aren’t too interested in any more times.  But it’s a cute DVD.  Looks like there are bunches more of them.
  • Muzzy, the well-marketed language program, was our first acquisition for audiovisual Spanish learning.  It’s okay.  The kids liked to watch it.  They still will watch it occasionally.  In the multi-modal approach we use, it is beneficial.  Boca Beth and Whhistlefritz do a better job of bridging the gap for a child learning to be bilingual.  I firmly believe in the immersion technique, but Muzzy doesn’t make the grade.  Its’ really just a cute cartoon in Spanish.  You can find those on YouTube or by changing your settings on your kids’ DVDs.  So if you’re short on cash, not worth the investment.

Favorite Movies in Spanish:  We watch Cinderella, Puff the Magic Dragon, and Tangled in Spanish sometimes in the afternoon and I have to get something done and they’re asking for TV.  As the kids already know what’s happening, it’s a nice way to work Spanish in.  For the older kids, put on the subtitles, too!  Either in Spanish or English.

Computer Programs:  With our teacher twice weekly, Spanish DVDs, CDs in the car, and mom and dad speaking Spanish as much as we can, we’re getting by without a computer program this year.  I rely on them if we are between Spanish teachers, although I’m thinking about getting them back in working order.  They’re a pain in the butt to reload when your computer crashes, as did ours.  Rosetta Stone is touted and touted, but my favorite is Visual Link Spanish  .  A wonderful program.  How could you not like a program with a “Burrito Builder” and catchy music.  If I had my druthers, I’d pick this over Rosetta Stone.  We have both, but currently right now they are collecting dust.  I plan to get them in working order again over the next few months, and maybe I can post a good review.

Free Online Spanish Games:  It took me a long time, but here is a site that engages kids, is easy to use, doesn’t take forever to load, and speaks some Spanish for them to hear.  OnlineFreeSpanish.com. If I find more good sites, I’ll post them.  There are some more boring sites for older students for grammar and such, but this site I listed is great for kids (and I listen in too).

You Tube:  Ahhhh.  You Tube.  Poetry recitation.  Piano music.  Spanish.  What don’t you have?  You Tube has lots of cartoon video in Spanish.  I found a Muzzy section on there, some “Caillou”, and “Sesame Street” (Plazo Sesamo).  There’s also a good one called “Pocoyo.”  Now, we watch a lot of “Kirikou” on there in Spanish.  Who is Kirikou?  He is one cute little African boy.  It may not appeal to some people’s sensibilities, as it is about an African tribe, and although it’s a cartoon, the women look just like they did in National Geographic when you gah-gahed over it as a child.  Clothes are scant.  There’s a foiling character who is a bit scary looking and casts spells and such.  But it doesn’t scare my kids, and I explain to them a little bit about African culture and climate (what little I know).  And you can find the cartoon in Spanish (and many other languages as well).

Flashcards:  I bought Usborne Spanish Flashcards.  I don’t like them.  The word is right there on front of the card with the picture and is too big to cover easily.  I bought eeBoo Spanish Flash Cards.  Love them.  Big size.  Beautiful drawings and color.  High quality cardstock.  One side is Spanish and the other side is exactly the same in English.  A picture, the word, and a short sentence with the word is on each side.  Our Spanish teacher uses them a lot.

Phonics book:  We don’t focus on written Spanish much, but I bought Juguemos a leer from Amazon awhile ago.  It is difficult to find and may be pricey.  We are slowly working through it.  It is actually a phonics reading primer and workbook they use in Mexico elementary students.  My kids read the primer with the Spanish teacher.  I muddle through the workbook with them slowly and surely.  They like it and don’t complain.

Library books:  We check out Spanish library books.  They read them with the teacher.  I’ll read some to my 4-year-old, but she always says, “English.  English.”

Time is running short.  I could type on and on.  I just want to add a note on the advertising-gimic of “immersion.”  None of those DVDs, CDs, or computer programs provide true immersion.  Parents provide immersion by repeatedly surrounding children with lots of diverse, rich material in whatever it is they want the child to learn.  Repeatedly.  Day in.  Day out.  Ideally, we would pack up for months and go to Spain or Mexico, and my children would be immersed in Spanish language.  They’d speak it within months.  The best we can do for now is to provide a native teacher, DVDs, CDs, our own attempts at language (my kids correct us now!!!!!!!), books, and striking up conversations with strangers who look like they speak Spanish.  Only to find out they’re Korean.  Embrace life.