Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Kid Loves Spanish

A second language is always helpful, right? OK, maybe Latin is a little outdated, but there are many other languages that can be handy. In our area, we have a large Spanish-speaking population, so Spanish is a commonly taught second language in the schools.

But by the time kids get to school, much of their capacity to easily learn a new language is gone. Starting when a child is a toddler or preschooler is optimal, which leaves more of the responsibility on us as parents.

Cordy has learned some Spanish thanks to her two best friends: Dora and Diego. Not a lot of Spanish - just enough to get me in trouble. Yet somehow, I keep encouraging her to know more Spanish, because I know it will be good for her in the future.

The Parent Bloggers Network sent me the entire DVD set of Kids Love Spanish and asked for my thoughts on it. The series was created by two Southern California moms (and sisters) as a way to help address the need and importance of a second language for kids in our country.

The set contains seven volumes: Basic Words, Alphabet & Numbers, Family, Food, Colors & Shapes, Animals and Basic Phrases. Each DVD follows the same basic format. Words are taught one at a time, and each word is repeated many times before moving on to the next.

Each word is not only said by the two moms, but also by several children. This gives the viewer the chance to hear a word pronounced with slight variations by each child. There is little pressure to say the word exactly the same. After the word is repeated several times, one of the moms repeats the word one last time, and they move on to the next word.

It's clear this isn't a big-budget production. Bright green-screen effects and occasional rough patches of audio were a little distracting to me. But Cordy enjoyed watching these DVDs and didn't pay any attention to production value. She especially liked the songs at the beginning and end, and also really liked seeing all of the kids. Kids learn well from other kids, and I noticed Cordy paying more attention when children were the ones saying each word.

Some of the words had more explanation given, while others did not. For example, comida (food) was said several times by the kids, but little more was said or done. The kids simply stood in front of the camera and said the word. Having them point to or eat food might have been more helpful.

However, other words received a lot of explanation, such as agua (water). Agua was presented in several ways, with kids drinking glasses of water, babies splashing in water, and kids swimming in a pool (with commentary such as "The baby is splashing in the agua."). This worked really well - Cordy picked up words that were given more explanation than she did with words that didn't receive such treatment.

I liked how other Spanish words were worked in to a topic when possible. This was especially good when teaching the alphabet. Cordy learned quite a few words just by hearing a word that started with each letter.

The only thing that would have improved Cordy's enjoyment of Kids Love Spanish would have been more songs. She is a musical child, and learns well through song. Had they taught catchy Spanish songs, she probably would be singing them every day. (I can't tell you how often I have to hear, "C'mon, vamanos, everybody let's go...")

Grammar isn't really taught on these DVDs, but they do give an excellent introduction to basic Spanish words and phrases to get kids interested. They provided the spark to get Cordy interested in learning new ways to describe old things ("kitty...gato!"), and when she does finally start language instruction in school, she'll have a good start on vocabulary so she can focus more on sentence structure.

The important part of teaching your child a new language is just to get started. Make it fun, keep it simple, and reinforce what you teach. The Kids Love Spanish series provides an interesting and fun introduction to Spanish, providing simple words with a bright, cheery delivery.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Sure, I get some great opportunities to review products here on my blog. I like the chance to try out new products before buying. Sometimes I try things I never would have tried, and discover I love the product, other times I find out a product I really wanted wasn't worth the hype. Why waste money on something that won't work out for you, right?

However, I'll let you in on a little secret: product trials aren't just for bloggers with connections to PR reps. You, too, have the opportunity to try new products and give your opinions. You don't have to have a blog, either. All you need is an interest in new products and an opinion you're willing to share freely.

Vocalpoint is a group I signed up with over a year ago. Oftentimes, big companies want input from consumers on new products they're creating, or they have a new product they want to get the word out about. Vocalpoint connects these companies with their members, providing their members with access to product information before it's released, product samples, coupons, and a chance to provide feedback via surveys and forums.

In the past year, I've been able to try out a lot of interesting products. Most recently, I was given the chance to order one of the new line of Kashi snacks for free, and received a razor I might have never tried were it not for the sample. I also got a preview DVD of the new season of Meerkat Manor from Animal Planet. (Not for me, but Cordy loves watching it.)

Best of all, Vocalpoint can be as interactive as you want it to be. You can be active in the forums, participate in every survey, and give your feedback for every product. Or you can just receive the bi-weekly e-mail newsletters, try out samples that are sent to you, and provide feedback only if you really like or dislike something. It's up to you to choose your level of involvement.

If you're interested in getting the inside scoop on new products, click here to sign up for Vocalpoint!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wilbur Gets You Moo-ving

At our house, we're practically children's programming connoisseurs. Cordy has strong opinions on what she likes and dislikes when it comes to TV, and there are things I like and things she will never know exist. (*cough*purpledinosaur*cough*)

Along with Playhouse Disney and Noggin, we also watch Discovery Kids in the morning. Cordy loves that little penguin between shows (Paz?), and Hi-5 is an old favorite. So I expected another high quality show when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review the newest show for Discovery Kids, Wilbur.

My expectations were right. Wilbur is a cute calf who explores his barnyard world with his friends, solving problems by reading books to find the answer. Each episode, Wilbur gets the wiggles, and young viewers know it's time for a book. Wilbur reads the book once, and then the book is revisited, only this time the story is told by kids in their own words. Even if your child can't read, the show encourages a love of books and teaches kids that they can look at the pictures and still tell the story in their own words.

After the story, the problem is solved, and there is usually a musical segment following. I really, really like the diversity of the kids featured in this program. We're not talking about the token Asian kid in a sea of white kids - I mean a real mix of all colors, ethnicities and cultures. In particular, I remember seeing one little girl wearing a head scarf. I have to applaud the creators for choosing to represent real diversity in this program.

The characters on the show are charming and kids can easily identify with them. One episode deals with two characters both wanting to pretend to be little red riding hood - I think we can all think of situations where two kids fought over wanting to dress up as the same character.

Cordy gave the show her full attention each time we watched it. She danced, she pointed out shapes, and she had a good time. My only complaint is that when Wilbur starts to wiggle, a catchy little song is sung about it being time to choose a book. The song encourages kids to get up and get moving, but then as soon as the song is done it's time to calm down and read. While some kids may be able to do this, Cordy can't make that fast transition, and so keeps dancing and running around, unable to wind down and enjoy the story. She usually slowed down by the second reading, but introducing reading time with a get up and move song didn't work for her.

Did Cordy like it? Oh yeah. This is targeted right to her age, and after each episode she'd ask for "Weebur?" again. Will we watch it again? Of course. After several viewings, I don't think it's in her top three favorite shows, but she's still asking to see it, and I like it enough that I don't mind indulging her. After all, I can only watch Little Einsteins so many times before I want to plug my ears.

Wilbur can be seen on TLC and the Discovery Kids channel. Check your local listings for showtimes.