Spanish for Early Learners…and Mom {Review}

Apparently Whistlefritz heard about our family’s recommitment to becoming fluent in Spanish, or maybe un pájarito told them, because they gave us their Educator’s Spanish Collection in exchange for this review. ¿Bueno, eh? All opinions are my own, my kids’, or my cat’s.

What you need to know about us:

We speak English.

As much as we’ve tried to speak Spanish and sign language, for some obvious reason, like we’re lazy, we always slip back into English. I’ve taught my older children the equivalent of about a year’s worth of high school level Spanish, and we throw around quite a few Spanish words without thinking about it, but nobody is fluent.

Every time we near the Mexican-American border, or every time we sing a Spanish service, or every time we’re lost in the middle of a Spanish-speaking community and totally need to ask where to find the bathroom, we wonder why we haven’t put in the effort to become fluent as a family.

I always say it’s because I’m a lazy-butt, but do you want the truth? It’s overwhelming…and we couldn’t talk any of our Spanish-speaking friends into living with us in the rig. Something about “not enough space.” Pshaw.

Anyway, long story longer, a couple months ago we recommitted to becoming functionally fluent in Spanish, and this time we’re actually following through. I myself have three years of Spanish training (although the first two years were a joke). My four older are at a Spanish II level. My husband jumped on the band wagon and is actually learning this time around instead of speaking loudly in English with a Spanish accent–ha! (He also sings a moving “How Great Thou Art” in español.) The 11- and 8-year-olds are coming along nicely. The baby speaks quite a few words in Spanish and understands significantly more.

But Ellie. She’s 5.

She refused to join in. If I read a book to her in Spanish (we have some children’s books in español), she refused to listen. If I spoke a Spanish word to her, she demanded its translation. Whereas my other children would grab their shoes when I said “zapatos,” she waited for the English translation. ¡La tercita!

Remember that fact.

Now let’s go back to me. Wait–let me brush the cookie crumbs off my chin. Okay, back to me. While I can read Spanish fine (I’m only reading fiction in Spanish at the moment to force myself to keep going), and I can get by speaking it, I absolutely cannot understand when people talk to me in Spanish. Seriously, I get so confused that I actually start signing in American Sign Language. I know! It makes no sense! It’s not just Spanish. When I lived in Europe, I failed my French oral because I kept answering the wrong questions. They asked me what my home was like, and I told them I like cherry pie…which really was the right answer if they thought about it properly.

Now, hold that thought as well.

Let’s talk about Whistlefritz.

Whistlefritz Spanish

What is Whistlefritz’s Educator’s Spanish Collection?

Whistlefritz Spanish is an immersion program for children ages 1-7.

They use the following tools:

  • DVDs
  • Song CDs
  • Teacher’s manual with lesson plans
  • Cards
  • Extra downloadable lesson plans
  • Downloadable translation guide

The idea behind Whistlefritz is to immerse the child in the language so they learn it the same way they learn their native language. This is very effective for young children before their brains can capture the nuances of grammar.

The child watches a show, listens to music, or participates in an activity using only Spanish (or as much Spanish as possible). In the process, the child picks up a few words or expressions in Spanish. Through repeat usage, the child will pick up more and more. It’s that simple.

What can you expect?

To me, the DVDs are the heart of the program. Others will definitely consider them a supplement and prefer the lesson plans as the basis of the curriculum, so make sure you check out their reviews, too. You can totally use one with out the other and the other without the one, kinda like how you can have cookies without milk, and milk without…I can’t believe I almost said that.

I like that with the DVDs the kids can pop in a DVD and learn something even if I’ve totally biffed planning and implementing again that week. I’m a member of Biffers Anonymous. When you see the letters BA in my credentials, that’s what it stands for.

The DVDs and music are very professionally produced. Oh, you can’t imagine what a relief that is! There is so much junk thrown together these days, that I was seriously scared that we would be watching weeks of blah for this review. Not so!

Whistlefritz Spanish

The premise of the DVDs is the host interacting with Fritzi and a variety of children. In the process, she teaches all sorts of words and expressions, and prepares the ear to receive the language–that last part is very important.

I mentioned earlier that I struggle with hearing other languages, even if I know them very well. That is because my ear was never trained to hear it. I basically had a Sesame Street Spanish education before high school, and my high school Spanish teacher was learning Spanish at the local community college and teaching us what he learned as he was learning it. That’s my nice way of saying he stunk royally, and he never really spoke to us in Spanish.

Whistlefritz DVDs and CDs fill your child’s head with the correct sounds through conversation and music–professional, high quality music, I might add.

The host is charming and inviting, and the children are cute, fun, and not annoying. Being not annoying is pretty important in our tiny home.

Whistlefritz Spanish

The only section some might take issue with is the Halloween segment on the estaciones (seasons) disc. Your child will learn the words for ghost and witch’s hat, and watch kids carve pumpkins and go trick-or-treating.

Other than that, there are no references made to anything else that some might find “offensive.” I don’t even remember a Christmas reference. Rats–I love Christmas.

The humans all wear plain, modest clothes–no symbols, emblems, or words. The mouse, I should warn you, is generally naked. Avert young eyes.

The animals, background, and images on the DVDs are cartoons, but the people are real. Also, there are many completely real scenes with completely real people interspersed into the story.

Whistlefritz

Closed captioning is available on these DVDs in English and Spanish. We switch around–sometimes without, sometimes in Spanish for the older kids who want to know the spellings, and rarely in English. You don’t want to be translating as you go–you want the Spanish word to immediately draw forth from your brain the image it represents, not the English word and then the image, because that route is convoluted. But still…sometimes we use the English captions. See the “Language immersion?” video here for more about that.

Some words are printed in Spanish on the screen.

Whistlefritz Spanish

Now then, the lesson plans. The lesson plan book incorporates topics across many subjects, including art, math, P.E., and science. Your two-year-old won’t be memorizing the periodic table, but he will be learning a few things along the way…in Spanish.

Each of the 40 lesson plans will run you roughly 40 minutes if you do everything as planned. I have learned that “as planned” is a goal we never achieve. These lesson plans would be perfectly effective broken up over the course of a few days or even throughout the day. Remember, you’re working with little children–don’t stress about a lesson plan! Please! ¡Por favor!

That said, let’s peek at some sample lesson plans. Each plan will have you working with something that the child will encounter in everyday life–clothing, seasons, colors, numbers, greetings, food, animals, your crazy Uncle Louie. I made that last one up.

With minimal prep in advance (I would say 10 minutes generally) and materials you usually have on hand (assuming you have a copy machine, which I don’t), you can guide your children through a full lesson in Spanish. The Spanish directions for you to say are written in the lesson plan for you. For help with pronunciation, see the website.

Almost every lesson has you copying something, so if you do not have a copy machine, do all your prep in advance at the library or wherever. Once the items are copied onto cardstock, they can be used over and over with or without Mamacita for excellent review and practice.

My plan is to spread the lessons out over the course of two years, primarily with Eliana (5), but also with Judah (1) at a slower speed. The rest of us–truth be told–watch and learn as well.

Finally, the card game. At first I was all, like, “¡Oi!” But the card game, people! It’s been really fun! The cards are broken into, I believe, four color groups. Each card has a pair. They all have verbs printed with an image of Frito (his real name is Rito) the Fox and the infinitive form of the verb that his action illustrates. Got that? You don’t know what an infinitive is, do you? You don’t have to know! It doesn’t matter! Your child will learn them and that’s good enough for now.

Here’s a picture:

This is not necessarily how you’re “supposed to” use the cards, but we have used them for Go Dance (like Go Fish, only more wiggly), Memory, Old Mujer (like Old Maid, but in Spanish and just as politically incorrect. Wink.), and other games that have no name and probably shouldn’t exist. I break them up into colors and send a different color to each row of the van, and have the riders in each row play a game with those verb cards. Strangely, the directions don’t mention our weird approach–they only talk about Memory Match. But hey, it’s working!

Here’s the thing about “supposed to.” Whistlefritz really is intended for Mamacita to use however it works best for her family. I love that I can throw a Whistlefritz activity into my day whenever I feel like it, and I’m not compromising the program at all.

If, however, you need more structure, than, say, the family of ten whirling down the road wherever a church wants them to go, the lesson plans are your lifesaver.

A caveat about screens:

I know that Whistlefritz is marketed to children ages one to seven, and that you’re not supposed to let your child under age two watch screens. So here’s my advice: if that’s really important to you, or if your kids have certain issues that make them more prone to screen addiction or neurological/behavioral issues, wait until they magical age of two to let them watch the screens.

Otherwise, don’t feel guilty about allowing it in small doses. TV should be allowed only in small doses anyway. (Never mind that we binge watch The Dick Van Dyke Show with a baby in the room–I say room, but we live in a travel trailer. We ain’t got no room.)

Plus real moms sometimes need to go stand in the shower and sob and they might not have friends and relatives and spouses and hired help at hand to watch the children during that little break-down moment that is a necessary part of every mom’s life. If that’s you, Whistlefritz is there for you, Mamacita. Put the DVD on, plop your 20-month-old in front of the TV, grab the chocolate chips, and hide under the table. I will not judge.

The cool thing about that is when your kids find you, they will be able to say, “Mama is under the table. Are you sleeping, Mama?” in Spanish, like this:”Mama esta debajo de la mesa. Usted duerme, Mamacita?” And everyone will think you are the best mom ever because your children are bilingual. Life is weird like that.

Whistlefritz

Is this parent-heavy?

Technically, you could stick your niños in front of the television and they will learn. I know–it isn’t perfect and it isn’t as effective as a native speaker, but…screeeeeeeeeeech. 

I’m going to stop here and tell you a story.

When my first was a baby, I wanted to speak to her in French as much as possible so she learned two languages. I only had a year in French studies at University, but I wanted her to have the benefit of my knowledge and enough of a background that it came easily if she ever wanted to study it. At the very least, she could pick up about 500 vocabulary words thanks to my late night study-fests, right?

The “experts” told me that if I didn’t know a second language fluently, I would “ruin her” by teaching it to her partially. (With that logic, over 89% of Americans need to stop speaking to their children at all, and I should definitely stop singing to mine.)

So I stopped…because the experts told me to…and I used to listen to them.

Now I’m stubborn, and I am fully aware that a child that can speak 500 words in a foreign language (even if they mess up their conjugations) is far and away better off than the child whose poor misinformed mother is waiting for the perfect language program or for God to drop a Spanish au pair in her life.

Amen to that. Rant over. But the story continues.

I spoke bad French to my third daughter, and she could respond to commands and basic questions in French. By child number five, we switched to Spanish. My first son (fifth child) knew as many words in Spanish as he knew in English, which in no way inhibited his verbal development or communication. In fact, we can’t get him to stop talking. Seriously, if we were in The Sound of Music and we were hiding in the abby, we would all be dead. No joke.

What was the question? Oh yes, is this parent-heavy?

It is as heavy as you want it to be. If you stick your children in front of the television, they will learn some Spanish. But if you sit with your children in front of the television, you will learn some Spanish. And if you use those words on a daily basis, by replacing your words with the Spanish word consistently, they will know the word so well they won’t even realize they’re speaking Spanish. Truth.

And if you use the lesson plans (or a variation of them if you live in a travel trailer), they will learn more Spanish (and other fun things, like counting and your primary colors). Even if you add the activities once a week, once a month, once every third Tuesday following a full-moon, when you remember you’re supposed to be homeschooling, the video lessons will be reinforced and your child will learn even more.

Finally, if you play with the cards, you’re taking it to another level. The more you do, the more your child will learn, but if you can’t do anything, they will still learn.

Here’s what I’m saying, in case you want to skip my rambling:

This program does not require you, Mamacita, to get heavily involved to make it work. Technically, your child can watch television and pick up some Spanish. If, however, you get involved, even some of the time, your child will learn faster and better.

In other words, it’s flexible. No guilt, Mamacita! Not one drop.

Also muy importante, you do not need to know Spanish to use this program, but you will learn to speak Spanish if you use this program with your child. You can learn the pronunciation from the DVDs or go to the Whistlefritz website for assistance.

Additional thoughts for other frugal and/or large families:

The activity book is reproducible. Can I just kiss Whistlefritz right now?

Also–and this is muy, muy importante if you are a family of musicians or if you are human–the songs are not annoying. That means the whole family can watch, sing, listen, whatever, and not be annoyed. I know, because I passed it by my 16-year-old’s highly sensitive annoyance-meter, and she said it totally passed, as long as we shut it off before “Frito’s” (or is it Lito or Rito or Ito) explanation of what immersion is. They’ve heard that about 75 times–no exag–and that gets a little annoying, she says.

Here’s the thing, large familias–everybody can learn from this, which makes it totally and completely useful. The littles are using it as an introduction to Spanish and as entertainment. The older children are learning it to expand their Spanish knowledge all around. I’m using it as a way to practice my listening skills and to get a shower alone.

Did you catch that? I’m using it to practice my Spanish listening skills…and it’s working.

Additional thoughts for my fellow roadschoolers:

The lesson plan book requires photocopying. We don’t have a photocopier in our rig. our printer doesn’t do that. You can improvise, which works okay, but sometimes you just have to bite the proverbial bullet and go find a copy machine somewhere.

The lesson plan book is also fairly thick–about an inch.I’m realizing, thanks to YouTube full-time family RV tours entitled things like “How a family of 4 survives in a 40-foot class A motorhome,” that most of you don’t have the same space challenges as our family of 10 in a 30-foot travel trailer. Still, none of you live in the Taj Majal or some equally elaborate tomb, so just know that the book is thick. That said, you can opt for the downloadable version instead. That would solve the photocopier issue if you, like us, have a printer but not a copier.

The cards are small and can be contained with a rubber band or a hair tie. The DVDs and CDs can be taken out of their cases and put in a travel case, so no bigs there.

You do not need an internet connection, unless, duh, you purchase the downloadable option, but that’s a one-time download and you’re ready to roll.

Will it stay on the road with us?

Absolutely 100% yes with no question whatsoever! I’d bet a cookie on it! Two even!

My terca daughter who refused to speak or listen to one word of Spanish, now asks for her Whistlefritz activities, asks to use Spanish apps, asks for Spanish translations, speaks Spanish (not like a pro, but she speaks it!), talks en español with her baby brother, and sometimes translates our English songs into Spanish. Can you say transformation?! I mean, seriously, can you say that, because it’s, like, a four-syllable word.

Nothing else I’ve tried has ignited such a fascination in and enthusiasm for learning a foreign language in our child.

Here’s a picture of her teaching me a new word she just learned:

And my listening skills are improving…slowly, but definitely improving. Score!

Yes, it is definitely staying on the road with us.

Summary:

Whistlefritz Spanish is all of the following:

  • fun
  • effective

Want to know more?

Click on any of the links below to learn more:

What other parents are saying:

Other Homeschool Review Crew parents also reviewed both Whistlefritz French and Whistlefritz Spanish. To get their opinions, click here or on the banner below:

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