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?
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!