Spelling – perhaps one of the least favorite and most groaned about subject there is for children (and many adults). Between texting, email blasts, and spell-checkers, do we even need to stress about teaching our children to be proficient spellers? YES! (And I’m not just saying that because I have an English degree and come from TWO parents who taught English. Heaven help me.)
Why Should We Teach Our Kids to Spell Well?
Spelling is an integral part of life. It is more than just about writing clear and correct sentences. It is about reading, understanding, and communicating. Without understanding the rules for and the connotations of spelling, the written word is less valuable. Yes, our children live in a world where the dictionary is used for holding doors open more often than for searching for words. Kids can find the correct spelling and definition of words by using voice recognition software. When 5th graders write research papers they learn that words underlined in red are misspelled, but they don’t even have to search for the correct version – they merely need to choose from a suggested list of possibilities. However, life is not comprised solely of automated corrections. Spelling is just one of the valuable tools we can make sure that our children have in their toolboxes.
- Understanding spelling rules helps children learn to read. There is no substitution for phonetics when it comes to learning to read, and understanding phonetics comes from learning how to spell.
- Proficiency with spelling helps to enhance verbal communication. Kids who understand some of the basic rules for spelling are more likely to understand some of the basic rules for pronunciations and enunciations.
- Spell check programs don’t necessarily know if you meant through instead of threw, or to instead of too. They are not fail safe options for kids who aren’t taught spelling.
- Employers will notice on job applications, résumés, and office communication, and are often less than impressed with poor spelling. While technology is becoming more integrated in classrooms, there are plenty of teachers who still rely on pencil and paper methods for quizzes, assignments, and tests, especially in-class. One of my daughter’s professors is known to hand out a question, tell the students they have 10 minutes, and he wants 200 words – with pencil and paper – and he marks off for spelling errors.
How Can I Teach My Child to Spell?
There is a stereotype that homeschoolers are amazing spellers. They are not inherently so (sorry kids). However, I think what they do tend to have which is valuable to learning to spell well, is the opportunity to integrate two of the key components outlined by researchers to improved spelling – visual memory and spelling memory. None of my children are magnificent spellers. However, they do have a few tricks up their sleeve and a solid foundation in language skills. In traditional school setting spelling is often divided into a separate subject, where in my homeschool experience it is integrated into all subjects.
Spelling is not just about memorizing the order of letters. Researchers have found that there are two main types of memory involved with learning to spell: visual memory and spelling memory.
Visual memory is what children use when they remember the physical shapes of letters. Even a toddler can recognize the letters of his first name simply by having seen those letters monogrammed above his crib since the first day he came home from the hospital. Accurate spelling goes far beyond visual memorization. It requires spelling memory, or the ability of children to use what they know about speech, phonetics, and the relationships of words to each other. Children cannot truly learn to spell if we don’t teach them how to integrate both parts of these memory devices.
Once children are given opportunities to use both their visual and spelling memories, they can use this knowledge to make assumptions when reading or deciphering speech.
Focus just as much on the sound that letters make as on the modern name for each letter. Programs like “How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” don’t have teachers saying this is the letter “a” in the word bat, but instead say the short sound of the letter. English letters do not just say their own names, confusing many children as they are learning to spell and read.
Teach children the history of root words. Latin and Greek sources of root words are often grouped together as families of words. It can be easier for your child to learn about a family of words than to memorize words individually. It also reinforces the meanings behind words, building upon their knowledge and their abilities for recall. I’ve used a simple workbook program – Vocabulary from Classical Roots – to teach my children about the spellings and meanings of root words.
Don’t limit spelling to paper and pencil. Use toothpicks, popsicle sticks, tape on the floor, and rocks to form letters and words. Help your kids play association games for spelling. If they are learning to spell the word stick, give them sticks to form the letters. Association games like this reinforce meaning behind the sometimes senseless letter combinations.
Use what you know about your child’s learning styles. If you have a kinesthetic learner, don’t force him to sit and memorize word lists. Have him hop as he says the letter sounds in each word. If you have a visual learner, encourage her to trace letters as she says the sounds. For kids with sensory learning styles, give them a tray of shaving cream or rice and have them spell words onto the textures. It helps to reinforce the letter shapes in long-term memory in the brain.