Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Learning Spanish with Spanish for You! Fiestas


 A Review for Mosaic Reviews
Spanish For You! Fiestas


Spanish for You! is written by Debbie Annett, MSEd. She is a certified teacher with many years of experience teaching Spanish at all levels and different classroom settings. She created Spanish for You! to address needs that she saw in Spanish educational programs. Some of these needs were for a program which would help a child to transition to any high school Spanish program, something that was simple and engaging enough to provide a lot of learning without being too difficult to use or implement or overly expensive and provide an audio resource for the entire course.

Spanish For You! is an easy to use Spanish instruction program for students in grades 3 through 8. It is designed to be flexible and easy to adapt for all students. The purchase of a Spanish For You! curriculum theme package provides lesson plans and worksheets for students in all 6 grade levels. Lesson plans and worksheets are written for grades 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. The lesson plans can be used for different grade levels at the same time. Thus allowing for all students to easily participate and learn no matter their prior exposure or proficiency.

Spanish for You! Fiestas contains 5 lessons, each on a different festival or celebration. Each lesson contains  4-7 weekly lesson plans which all have the theme of the same festival. Events included are birthday parties, Day of the Dead, Carnival, Holy Week and April Fair. There are 30 weeks worth of lessons for 3-6 grades and 24 for 7 & 8. The book contains extensive descriptions of the lesser known Fiestas.

To give students a broad view of Spanish and make learning useful, Spanish for You! students learn by reading, speaking, conversing and understanding.The lessons in Fiestas teach nouns, verbs, phrases, conjugating verbs, and translation around the theme of the celebration event. The students also practice writing both English and Spanish in all of the lessons. All of the activities and practice in each lesson work together to teach students how the language works and begin to build fluency in the new language as well as helping the student to communicate in Spanish. Each of the lessons contains the same components and order, yet there is variety in the presentation and activities. Spanish for You! is a blend of the Spanish spoken in Mexico and Spain.

Fiestas also teaches common words and phrases, commands, colors, and numbers and the alphabet. A written pronunciation chart is also found among this useful information. Students learn Happy Birthday Songs in both Mexican Spanish and Spain Spanish.

The book and worksheets are black and white, illustrated by the authors daughter in simple line drawings. Debbie choose this style of illustration to keep costs low, so the entire curriculum could be sold at its low cost. Very similar pictures are used in the book, on the worksheets, and for flashcards which the student makes as part of their lessons.

In addition to the Fiestas theme book, a curriculum about seasons, Estaciones is available. A 4 week trial of the upcoming book, Viajes or travel can also be purchased. Each book stand son its own, thus it's possible to start with any book in the series. The material in each book spirals, but the individual books do not spiral. There is some overlap in material between books.

In addition to the curriculum packages, there are many activities and games, mini lessons, and worksheets available at the website. Debbie maintains a blog containing useful teaching information and fun ideas as well as links to other websites with supplementary information. While I have been using Spanish for You! Debbie posted a link to a website containing information about April Fair.

Purchasing Spanish for You!

A purchase of Spanish For You! includes a soft cover text book and downloadable worksheets and audio files of the text book featuring both the author and a native Spanish Speaker. The Fiestas package can be purchased for $64.95. Dual grade levels packages are available $39.95 and individual books are $12.95 Classroom teacher lesson plans are coming soon. All Spanish for You! materials have been used in a classroom setting. The 4 week trial package of Viajes is available for grades 5-8 for $9.99 and grades 3-4 for $12.99.

My Thoughts

Both of my children and I have really enjoyed using Spanish for You!. I like how it is a well rounded approach to teaching the language. With the various activities it appeals to different learners and keeps learning and practice interesting and exciting. The activities are also short enough that they are not fatiguing or trying. I also feel that the variety of activities and approaches help keep the lessons from dragging on since several weeks are spent on the same celebration.

I really like the theme based approach to the instruction and how quickly my children were able to use and apply the materiel of the lessons. Both of my children had birthdays during the review time so the first lesson about birthdays was especially timely for them. My 9 year old son used his newly acquired Spanish to tell me what items were needed for his birthday celebration. Like la vela (the candle) and la pastel (the cake). He was disappointed that ice cream was left out of the vocabulary list!

Both of my children enjoyed the games and activities suggested in the lessons and available from the Spanish for You! website. We usually ended Spanish lesson time with one of these games. Many of them work better with more than two participants.

I liked the simple design of the illustrations. They make the point, but are not distracting. My 12 year old daughter really liked making her own flashcards. She is artistic and creative and chose to draw her own illustrations for her set of flashcards. She drew and colored some examples to show you. They are drawn freehand by looking at the Fiestas book. She colored them so they would show up better in the picture. My son was not as enthusiastic about drawing and choose to use the ready made pictures which he just glued onto the index cards.

I really liked the structure and length of each days lessons. There is natural review built into the lessons as well as new material each day. I think this really helped to keep the lessons interesting and engaging. The variety of activities and approaches helps to keep interest in the material and make it 'stick'. We generally completed each days lesson in 30 minutes and then I gave my children 15 minutes for a game or to make their flashcards and play with them.

For someone who is learning the language along with her children I really appreciated the audios. In my opinion this is essential for learning a foreign language. We listened to both the native speaker audios and Debbie and found we learned more from Debbie's as there was better timing and phrasing. Thus we generally used her recordings along with the lessons. We did benefit from listening to the native speakers recordings as well.

The biggest challenge I encountered with Spanish For You! was navigating the large file of worksheets. This file was confusing to me and it took quite a while to find the pages I was looking for. I am not sure if it is possible to organize these worksheets in another way, but for me it would have been easier to have all of the worksheets for one lesson and grade level in one file with a separate corresponding answer key file. Essentially a file of worksheets for lesson 1 grades 3-4, lesson 2 grades 3-4, etc for each of the lessons and grade levels.

**UPDATE**  After I published this review I learned from Debbie  that she has reorganized the worksheet files into folders for each grade level. So that change should eliminate the challenge which I described above. Debbie was prompted to reorganize the files after reading several reviews from Mosaic Team members. I am impressed with her customer service in this matter.

I have also checked out a couple books written in Spanish about birthdays and parties to have my children read using what they have learned in Spanish for You!. Unfortunately I was just able to get them from the library the other day so they have not been able to do this yet.

My 9 year old had this to say, " I liked it. It was a lot of fun."

My 12 year olds thoughts. " I really liked the pictures for the vocabulary words. Younger kids might also learn the words with these flashcards."

Both of them have asked to continue with Fiestas after we are done reviewing it. They have not asked this about other Spanish programs we have reviewed, so I am confident in saying they like the materials. I know they are learning the vocabulary as they use it in everyday interactions.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Review of The Ultimate Homeschool Planners from Apologia

 A review for Mosaics Reviews

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

The Ultimate Homeschool Planners are a series of three planners for the homeschooling family by Debra Bell and Zan Tyler for Apologia. The main portion of the system is The Ultimate Homeschool Planner for the parent  complimented by The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students and Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens. The student and teen planners are designed to be used with parental guidance to help the students learning efficient and effective planning and organization.

The planner system shares the idea homeschooling is a part of family life and it is nearly impossible to separate it from family life and the functioning of the household. Because of this interrelationship and the complexity of both family life and homeschooling, planning for major events and homeschool goals will make daily life smoother and more enjoyable.


The backbone of the system is the Parent planner in which the parent has the opportunity to plan for academic and character goals their family. Forms in the planner include:
  • One Year Planning Grid
  • Student Goal Setting
  • Family Priorities 
  • Resource List 
  • Monthly and Weekly Planner pages
  • Record forms for Grades, Reading Lists, and Activities
  • High School Planning Guides
  • Year End Review 
  • Ideas to Help Learners of Different Types
The parent planner measures 9 by 11 inches with a sturdy plastic wipe clean cover featuring inside front and back pockets bound with a plastic spiral.

The parent planner also includes an extensive tutorial about using the system to get the most out of it while helping each family member to grow personally and academically.

This parent planner is available in two cover designs and sells for $28.00

Weekly Planning Pages


The Student Planner contains

  • Monthly Planner Grids
  • Weekly Assigment Grids
  • Reading Logs
  • Chart for recording Grades
  • Physical Activity logs
  • Activity Logs
  • Space for Current Reflections and Dreams for the Future 
  • Space for Notes
  • Study Aids
    • History Timelines
    • World and US Maps
    • Science and Math Conversion Charts
    • Writing and Punctuation Guides
    • Book Ideas
  • Reminder Stickers for the calendar
 The Student planner is $19.00

The student planners are designed to be used along with the parent planner. It is recommended the teaching parent meets with each student twice a week; Monday to go over the week and put the weeks assignments in the book and then on Friday to review the weeks work.

The student planners are straight forward and have simple  weekly pages. There are two facing pages for each week, with each page divided into 3 sections; one for each day and Saturday/Sunday. There is a place for the student to mark off what they have accomplished and a place for the parent to mark when work has been completed to satisfaction.

Student Weekly Planning Pages

The student planner measures 6 by 8 1/2 and features the same sturdy wipe clean cover as the parent planner, but without the inside pockets. There is also a plastic ruler attached to the spiral which can be moved throughout the planner.

The third component of the Apologia Planning System is The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens. I did not review this item as my children are not in the age range. It is designed for grades 7-12. It is $19.00

Apologia also has curriculum materials for all levels, parenting and family resources, and homeschool planning and encouragement resources.

My Thoughts

I often find myself remembering  the saying "Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail" in the evening when I am tired and just want to sit and veg out. I generally sketch out a plan for the week, but often don't get everything I want to accomplish written down. If I just have a plan in my head I often find things aren't done. After studying and using parts of The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, I am confident in saying that if I follow the steps and methodology behind the system my planning would be more complete and we would accomplish more. 

I have looked through and reviewed several Apologia products before and I really have not been impressed, but these planners are different. I was totally blown away by them. I like their simplicity, the pages are pretty but not distracting and the writing space is generous enough for lots of notes and plans. I also like undated pages, allowing for our schedule and not wasting weekly planning pages when we aren't do work I need to plan ahead.

My favorite form in the whole book is the one year planning grid. Some activities we participate in announce their dates for the year all at one time in the fall and I love being able to write them all down at one time and know when events are without having to go back through email.

One page of One Year Planning Grid

The resource lists are pretty useful as well. The columns are on these pages are wide enough that I can make a code for each curriculum item, write the name of it afterwards and then just use the abbreviations  in the rest of the planner. I think it would also be quite helpful if you need to keep track of materials used for reporting purposes.

 Another feature of the parent planner I like is the half page "Weekly Memorable Moments" area. There are so many little moments every day that I want to remember, but it is often not convenient to write something down the moment it happens or if I do manage to get it on paper I often don't date or label it. With the space for each week I will have some idea of when things happened. Also as I am rarely far from my planner, I have more of a chance to write things down.

I have to admit I have not gone through the whole year planning process as laid out in the parent planner as I have just begun thinking about the next  academic year. Thus it is challenging to plan a whole year when I do not have all the resources in place. I am thinking about goals for the year, which is an important component of the planning process. I intend to use this plan to organize our next year. It may seem strange having 'instructions' about how to plan, but I find them straight forward, clearly communicated, and user friendly. The text 'instruction' are made user friendly with pages featuring small pictures of the planning pages and short bursts of information to further describe the intended use.

The weekly plan pages have boxes in the margin for notes, supplies, and appointments. I used the supply section to make a list of items I need to print or copy from my computer. This way I don't interrupt my weekly planning to make copies, but can do it all at the same time from a list in one place.

Since there are so many pages in the planner, I would find it easier to use if there were tabbed dividers between the sections.

I don't generally use Apologia's products due to their religious nature and views. These planners do have prayers and religious reference. In the concepts of faithfulness and grace there is not distinction between justification and sanctificiation and no distinction between Law and Gospel. They do not  recognize the sacramental context of some of the Bible verses chosen.  The various prayers and quotations included also reflect this. Because the religious views are different than mine, I would choose this product based on the merits of organizing and planning rather than for the religion.

I also like how the student and parent planners are tied together to make a whole planning system with the goal of encouraging the students to become more independent in educational matters.

I honestly don't remember how I learned to plan and schedule commitments and due dates as a student, but this system makes the planning instruction/ guidance for students integrate fairly seamlessly into an academic plan. I found it does take some extra time for the student meetings and it was kind of strange to start doing this in the middle of the academic year. I think it would have been much easier to initiate at the beginning of a new year. I do believe this planning/ meeting method is a good way to help students take more ownership in their learning and pride in their work.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

March Moments

I haven't been very good about sharing weekly summaries so figured I would share a couple pictures from the last month and tell you about them.

One of the first things we did last month was the homeschool class at the library. The focus was weather.  First they tested their knowledge of severe weather and how to respond with a large group quiz. Then they started working on several projects. One of the projects was making an anemometer.

 The children also had the opportunity to make weather station boards and cloud playing cards. Homeschool class is always a lot of fun.

We also "celebrated" Pi Day. First I read Sir Circumference and the Dragon of Pi outloud. Then the kids measured several pie cutouts and then moved onto finding round items in the house to measure and compute circumference.

I also made an apple pie, but I'm not sure where the picture went to. :)

Just after the middle of the month is daughters' birthday. I usually make them a cake showcasing one of the current interests or something they like. This year daughter decided she wanted to chose some candies and make a picture on the cake. She came up with this flower, inchworm and sun design after frosting the cake.

We thought we were done with winter, but on Palm Sunday we learned otherwise. We received over a foot of snow that day. The evergreen between our house and the neighbor couldn't handle the weight of all that heavy snow. 

Also in March we went to the homeschool day at the local history museum. These days are generally a lot of fun and interesting, but this was one of the best. The theme was creating your own museum. All of the activities explained to the children what is involved in setting up an exhibit, event, or museum.

 They learned about writing a one or two person historical play using primary source materials from a staff member who has written many herself. A museum curator shared with us what kind of research is done about artifacts and how that is put onto a label and into the exhibit. In another event students were given a dollar amount and the cost for various types of local advertising with the assignment of choosing how they would advertise their exhibit without going over budget.  We also had the opportunity to look at old pictures and maps of the local area and compare them to the present.

Early in the month both children tried on summer clothes from last year. Unfortunately most of daughters' clothes didn't fit her. The budget doesn't allow for many new purchases right now, but I was able to purchase some clothes for my daughter. A local church was having their annual rummage sale so daughter and I ran over there, curious as to what we might find. It was the last morning and they wanted to get rid of things so all clothing was $1 a bag. Together we filled 4 bags, thus $4. At home I dumped all the bags out on the floor, what you see on the right, and discovered we had crammed over 70 items in those bags. Not everything is for her, I found a couple "new" pieces for myself as well and several are sweaters, but she did end up with quite a few items which will serve her well. I don't think this was too bad a deal.

 So this is pretty much the highlights of our month. We've also been plugging away at other academics, but none of that is terribly exciting.