Let me paint a homeschool scenario you might be familiar with: you are sitting around the table going over your spelling list with your child. You watched them make several mistakes so you are having them rewrite those words multiple times. They are overwhelmed, emotional, and crying as they scribble on their paper giving you the very least they have to offer. You feel frustration rise as you see their messy scrawl, feeling a sense of hopelessness that they are so disengaged and their spelling doesn’t seem to be improving. If you weren’t aware, the traditional homeschooling approach to Spelling is essentially the rule of three R’s: repetition, repetition, repetition. Around and around we go, hoping that the simple act of writing the same words over and over will finally stick so that our kids can be proficient writers, all the while questioning if we are doing something wrong. If you get nothing else today, I want you to walk away with 1 simple phrase that can be a total game changer:
There is a better way to approach homeschool spelling that is natural, easy, and engaging (plus it actually sticks)!
Have you ever noticed that we sometimes need permission to let go of some of the pressure we are holding onto? Permission to break into new territory in our homeschool? In a culture of following the herd it is exceptionally hard to take a different path. It feels abnormal, we feel alone, it feels unfamiliar and I think we need to take a minute to address that truth. Unchartered territory is scary. Tweaking your homeschool to make it unique to you means that there is no proven path to follow. You might make mistakes, or worse, you might be judged for your non-conformity. If this describes you today, take a breath and a few minutes to acknowledge what is holding you back. Then think about your child and what you think is best for them. Decide here and now if veering off the path of safety is worth it and then join me in the vast ocean of the “flexible homeschool experiment”. Now that we are all on the same page, let me share with you a different way to teach spelling that is, in my opinion, superior and in my kids’ opinions, much more enjoyable.
Understanding your child’s spelling stage
We often talk about math skills and reading skills and the natural process and brain development of a child, varying from home to home and individual to individual. However, these same principles apply to spelling as well. We cannot expect our children to write the written word until they have a foundation of understanding. It is a process that develops over time at the pace of your child, not the pace of a curriculum. The easiest way to understand these developmental stages is to watch this video by Dr. Holinga:
In short, Dr. Holinga talks about five spelling stages that your children will move through, regardless of what curriculum you are using.
This is the stage before they are reading and writing on their own, think preschool age. They are scribbling and drawing and learning pen control. They are beginning to build the foundation of reading by being read to and understanding that English is written left to right, beginning to learn their alphabet and understand that letters say a different name, etc.
This stage is around K-grade 1 for most children, though it can vary greatly. Children begin to put together the connections of letter sounds and how those fit into words. We aren’t too worried about spelling at this point, even praising the fact that they spelled eat like eet, showing that they are beginning to understanding the different phonograms.
3. Skill Development
This is often the longest and most frustrating stage for parents and students alike. As children progress in their reading, they begin to discover all the “rule breakers” of the English language. Things that don’t make sense phonetically. Their phonetic awareness essentially clashes with their understanding of spelling. This is when we start to step back from phonics and start to just let the natural process of reading (reading reading and more reading) reinforce the different spelling combinations. This stage often lasts through late elementary and as homeschoolers, is where we start to feel like we are hitting ur heads against the wall. Persevere friend!
4. Word Extension
In this stage we start to work on bigger words and syllable connections. This is the stage where we are dropping letters and adding letters in.
5. Derivational Constancy
This is the advanced spelling stage where we zone in on vocabulary-spelling connections. They begin to see patterns with various root words and rely on their mastery of the other stages. This is where Latin or Greek can come in helpful, or start working on medical vocabulary (which is largely based off Latin) so they can begin to see the connection between spelling and meaning.
A homeschool spelling approach without the battle
There is no question that repetition is key, especially in the skill development stage of learning. However, what if we could do repetition in a way that was engaging to our kids and building connections with things that mean something to them? Rather than just teaching them a list of words, we teach it though interesting passages that tie in the very concepts that they are learning. I’ve talked about teaching spelling through copywork a lot on my blog, but the reason for that is that it works! The more we can engage our children in the lessons, the more we can attach those tricky concepts to something that is easy to remember and retain–the stronger the foundation. Not only that, but it is more enjoyable for our kids and less of a battle.
This has been such a game changer for our homeschool. Though I’ve been using copywork for a long time, I was struggling with finding passages for each child that targeted their unique spelling struggles and development. With Spelling You See however, there is no more guesswork. I choose their books based on their level (there’s a simple placement test you can do on their site) and it gives me passages that are uniquely tailored to the stage they are in. I just open and go! It is a better way to teach spelling for them, but it is an easier way to make sure that strong foundation is being formed for me (win-win).
Multipurpose homeschooling: it’s a thing
Here’s the best part, reading, spelling and writing development are linked, right? As our children progress in one area, they often find breakthrough in another. This has been beautifully played out with my two middle kids this past year. My son is 8 years old, technically in grade 3 but working more at a late grade 1/early grade2 level. In contrast, my 5 year old is in Kindergarten but working more at a grade 1 level. After taking the placement test I decided to put them both in the same level (A) and it has been magical. While it is a bit easy for my 8 year old, it has been instrumental in the breakthrough I’m seeing in his reading while building confidence at the same time (another win-win moment). I caught these cute little video snippets of the kids reading their spelling to each other (NOTE: level A is more about dictation to help build the phonetic stage (auditory phonemic awareness), all the other levels have copywork passages combined with dictation).