I’ve always maintained that the best way for a child to learn to spell is to read, read, read. The more you read, the more words you are introduced to, the more words you see repeatedly, and the better a speller you will become.
That’s great. Really, it is. And I still believe that. But what do you do in the meantime? Reading, reading, reading, is not something that happens overnight. Becoming introduced to words multiple, hundreds, thousands, of times does not happen in a day. It takes time. And while you are encouraging your child to read, they are still taking spelling tests…and possibly failing.
Once again I come up against the fact that each one of my children is different. The two oldest girls are perfect spellers. And I say “perfect” because they regularly score 100% on their end of the year, Iowa State tests. (In Spelling. Let’s not talk about Math) How did I achieve such fabulous success? Not through any great spelling drills or techniques. No. They just love to read and their spelling improved by itself without any assistance from me. (However I will still happily take credit for it.)
Child number 3 was a little harder. It took him longer to discover how much he loves reading, but in the year that his love grew, he went from a kid who couldn’t spell “the” to being able to take 25 new spelling words a week and get at least 23 of them correct on the Friday test. My method here was simple. Take the 25 words and write them out on a sheet of paper each day. Repetition. So, it’s not the best method, but it really worked for him. Plus, it’s what his sisters had been doing and look at what great spellers they are! (Let’s ignore the fact that if they were to take a test on Monday over the new words they would probably score the same grade as on Friday after 4 days of rewriting them.)
Yay! I think. Evans children are just genetically good spellers. Let’s not mess with the technique. It’s worked (relatively pain free for me) for three children.
Along comes child number 4. He’s two grades behind his brother and therefore has not quite hit that point where he loves to read. He also cannot spell to save his life. Forget words like “the.” He can’t spell “cat.” He also has a slight speech impediment so he consistently mixes up “th” and “sh” because they sound the same to him. Also “f” and “v.”
No fear! Our trusty method of write out the 25 words will have him spelling like his siblings in no time!
What actually happens is that he misspells 24 of the 25 words. I pull out a new technique and have him say the word out loud, spell the word out loud as he writes it, and then say the word again.
That week he only misspells 23 of the words on the test. He’s also taking almost 45 minutes to do his spelling each day.
Back to the drawing board, which is a euphemism for “call Mom.” She gives me a copy of Teach Any Child to Spell. It comes with a workbook. Great! I think. I’ll follow the daily lesson plans and spelling lists and he’ll be spelling like a champ in no time.
Except there are no daily lesson plans. There are no spelling lists. There’s a lot of information on spelling rules and how to incorporate spelling into every day writing and the workbook has blank spaces for creating your own lists of words that follow different spelling rules.
It’s not a cookie-cutter program like some homeschooling curriculum (I won’t say who I’m thinking of right now with their mountains of busy work and neatly segmented daily lessons…), it’s holistic.
I hate it.
I want results fast. I want the book called Teach Your Child to Spell Perfectly in Ten Minutes a Year. (I bet that book would be a best seller!)
Given that my mother is usually right (I live for the day when my own children learn this about me as well!) I give it a try. Instead of a long list of random spelling words. I sit down with my son and his younger sister (one grade level behind him, but probably the same grade level for reading) and we pick a spelling rule. Then we create our own list of words using that rule. Then I dictate sentences to them using the words that we picked.
There’s no fancy list to take a test from. No feeling of accomplishment when I grade a 100% for spelling words like “superfluous” correctly (Honestly, why does a 3rd grader need to know how to spell “superfluous?”). But there are also no tears. No child wailing that they’re stupid and can’t do anything right. No mom pulling out her hair and assigning said child to rewrite ten times the words they just spent the whole week rewriting.
Will it work? Will I have another batch of great spellers on my hands? I don’t know. Because it’s going to take time. Lots, and lots of time.
But that’s kind of the whole point of teaching, isn’t it?
Summer is here and we are out of school. I find myself repeating the phrase that my mother would always say, “Find something to do or I will find something for you to do.” We were off for a total of two days before I started thinking about starting school again. Living in Florida, I have the same thought every year. Why do we take the summer off instead of the winter? It’s a million degrees outside. We don’t have a pool. No one wants to go outside and play. Which means that 8 little people are bouncing off the walls inside.
The temptation is to let the TV be their babysitter. My kids will happily sit in front of a screen until their brains turn to mush and drip out of their ears. I could have peace and quiet, but at what cost? So, when I found myself letting us eat more meals in front of the TV instead of at the table, I decided to make a change. I instigated “Family Fun Night.”
I had each child come up with an idea of something they thought would be a fun evening activity. We put those ideas on little pieces of paper into a hat and each week had the toddler (since he can’t read and thus can’t cheat) pick a slip of paper.
We’ve had a puzzle game night, a water balloon fight, a backyard play night, and gone out for ice cream. I’d like to say that these nights have been totally and completely fun. That’s what we envision as parents, right? All our children happily playing and loving together. The memories they will build as they cement their friendships and journey peacefully through life together. I’d really like to say that’s what has happened.
Puzzle game night was first. It had been my suggestion and there was great moaning and complaining when it was the first slip of paper picked. I pulled out a huge, floor puzzle of the United States and we all sat on the floor and put it together. There was fussing and accusing people of being in the way, and one child hid a puzzle piece and let everyone spend five minutes looking for it before he produced it from his pocket.
Water balloon night went a little better. I’d bought some of those new water balloons on Wish.com. The kind that attach to the hose and you fill up thirty balloons at one time. They worked great and I quickly had a large tub filled with water balloons. I had them start with water balloon duels and then played water balloon toss in order to slow down the enjoyment. Seven children can throw 120 water balloons in under two minutes. The balloon toss turned into an all out war and we were all soaked and laughing and muddy. All except child #5 who was sitting on the porch and crying because someone had thrown a balloon at her face and her clothes were wet.
Backyard play was also met with derision, but running around after dinner was not usually something we have time for and everyone was having a good time. At least, until I went to heat up the baby’s food for dinner and the four year old jumped up on the counter and grabbed the boiling cup of water I’d just pulled out of the microwave. Backyard fun night turned into trip to the Walk-in Clinic night.
Going out for ice cream was met with loud cheers of excitement. This was the one they’d been waiting for! It was the hardest one, in my opinion, because it meant leaving the house with 8 kids, but it was in the hat and had been chosen fair and square. I loaded everyone up, called my brother and sister to come with us for crowd control and we arrived at a local ice cream shop that had outside seating. We even took the puppy.
It was like herding cats. They wandered everywhere, weren’t listening, fell off the curb and skinned their knees, dropped half their cone into the dirt, and one cried for twenty minutes because she hadn’t gotten to give her uncle a “high five” when we’d dropped him off.
Then I still had to give baths and brush teeth and hustle tired, over sugared children into bed. I was exhausted and beginning to wonder whether “fun” should be part of the “Family Fun Night” title.
That’s when my 7 year old (the child who had complained that “movie night” would be more fun than doing “boring stuff”) gave me a big hug and said, “Mom, that was the best night ever. I love Family Fun Night!”
I’m hoping that in ten years the tears and fighting and yelling will be forgotten and all we will remember is the fun.
You know that family that shows up to church in the 15 passenger van? The one that homeschools? Ever wondered how they make it through the day or wished you could be a fly on the wall of their house? Well, I'm inviting you in. I'm 36 and I ride herd on 8 children (oldest is 12), 3 cats, 2 bearded dragons, and one puppy. It's loud, chaotic, and imperfect. Welcome to Life in the Big House!