Calico Spanish Stories Online vs. Risas y Sonrisas

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Risas y Sonrisas are both programs of similar length designed by experienced elementary-level Spanish teachers. Both programs help very young children learn Spanish with a full range of fun supplementary materials, including activity books and music. Both include connections that aid in early literacy and some math skills.

Beyond these similarities, we note a number of differences that will help you make the best choice for your students’ Spanish learning journey. Calico Spanish Stories online is a video story-based curriculum that can easily be implemented by teachers with little to no prior Spanish knowledge. The Video Stories that are the core of Calico Spanish Stories Online are based on the way research says children acquire language: through comprehensible input and interaction presented in achievable chunks. Our program, including all music, activity sheets, input, and suggested practice activities, focuses on meaningful language use above explicit grammar instruction and discrete vocabulary worksheets that have almost no useful application at the early elementary level.

No Spanish knowledge required

Schools who cannot find or afford a Spanish-speaking teacher have limited options for helping their young learners effectively acquire real-world Spanish speaking skills. Doing so requires a program with enough support and explanation so at least the facilitating teacher can know exactly what is going on, but also requires language presented in a meaningful context for children to comprehend and acquire naturally without distracting explanation or translation. Calico Spanish Stories Online was designed specifically so that leaders who have no prior Spanish knowledge can effectively create a Spanish learning experience for children. Such schools will find it more difficult to see success with their students using Risas y Sonrisas.

Comprehensible input towards achievable goals

The research is clear: for general learning, children learn best in specific ways, including through play, music, and storytelling. For language learning, children need to receive messages in a meaningful context that they will pay attention to and comprehend. Language teaching methods that employ this principle in their design are called comprehensible input methods. Instead of using comprehensible input, Risas y Sonrisas emphasizes explanation and drill-type exercises at a speed we can only call dizzying in its expectations. Expecting young children to acquire the amount of grammar and vocabulary outlined in their scope and sequence is unachievable in light of prevailing research on language learning.

In contrast, in Calico Spanish Stories Online, characters from Pedro the blue fish to Ofelia the white sheep invite children into their everyday lives through fun video stories, songs, and games full of comprehensible language input. Research shows that long-term language acquisition simply does not happen without comprehensible input, and we are committed to a program full of exactly that.

Meaningful language use in songs, games, and activity sheets

Since children must receive language through listening and reading before they are able to actively and accurately use it, Calico Spanish Stories Online supplies teachers with such activities. These strategies range from immediate modeling of language in context after first viewing the videos to lesson-ending activity sheets that ask children to use Spanish in a meaningful way. Along the way, children enjoy growing in their language use through some of the most popular Spanish learning songs on YouTube and games like “Go Fish.”

Risas y Sonrisas worksheets may ask children to fill in a masculine or feminine article for nouns or unscramble a vocabulary word, but there is no evidence anywhere that this type of activity supports language learning for making meaning, which is what all learners want to do. In contrast, in light of available research, Calico Spanish Stories Online asks teachers to skip any attempt at explaining the phenomenon of grammatical gender or other grammar concepts, and children will not be asked to do anything with individual vocabulary words disconnected from their meaning. We prefer to ask children to make meaning from basic levels like using blue to draw items that are usually that color or circling which characters can say something like “I’m big!” Children gradually increase their ability to make meaning with Spanish until, for example, they can fill in a chart and use it to present in Spanish information on what activities their family members like to do. These activity sheets are often adaptable to pre-literate or early-literate children; for more tips on adapting activity sheets for children who don’t yet know how to read or write, see this blog post.

Unique approach to intercultural competence

Instead of tagging cultural notes onto the curriculum, Calico Spanish Stories Online offers 4-5 Culture Capsules per level, each directly related to the curriculum’s language goals. These separate lessons offer a unique opportunity for learners to explore particular aspects of culture that directly relate to the curriculum’s language content, and then compare those aspects to one’s own cultural perspectives and practices. Each Capsule ends with a standards-based language task fulfilling national standards in intercultural competence.

Making the choice

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Risas y Sonrisas both offer a Spanish learning experience for young children. Teachers who wish to focus on grammar exercises with literate children will find more of this type of support in Risas y Sonrisas Homeschool, though we caution that research shows this focus will not support a child’s gains in speaking ability. For teachers who are less concerned with a grammar focus but want their students to acquire language in meaningful contexts that they can use in real-world interactions, in a system with full support in the absence of a Spanish speaker, Calico Spanish Stories Online is the clear choice.

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