Successful storytime brings together a comfy setting, good books, and page-turning vocal performances. By comparison, family spelling feels stripped down, a capella. There’s no deferring to an author’s words, illustrator’s images, or character’s voice to get through the moments. And there’s no hiding our ignorance when children pose questions about the how’s and why’s of spelling that we can’t answer.
Why is the k sound in bake spelled differently than the same sound in back? Why isn’t electricity spelled elektrisuty?
Spelling questions often leave us parents feeling completely exposed. And that’s okay. Bumping up against the limits of our knowledge is just an indication that it’s time for us to grow—alongside our kids. When we don’t consciously understand how spelling works enough to explain it to our kids, it’s a signal that we’ve got some learning to do.
Buy a book or program that explains the nuts and bolts of spelling, and get reading—and teaching. Some logical, systematic, and parent-friendly spelling programs include All About Spelling and Words Their Way for Parents, Tutors, and School Volunteers.
Because, while it doesn’t conjure up feelings of warmth and closeness like laughing and snuggling through bedtime stories, spelling instruction is crucial parental work. And it can bring mindfulness, care, and consistency to family life that’s just as vital and powerful as regular read-alouds.
Parents have ample occasion, through the days and years, to meaningfully explore words and cultivate great spelling with our children. We’ve got the time, and can build the expertise, to teach kids fruitful spelling strategies, quiz them on words and concepts, and help them become more reflective and analytical about their writing. Here’s a quick-start guide to teaching your child to spell:
It’s never too soon for parents to start thinking about spelling and building their knowledge base, because things you do early in your child’s life lay the groundwork for strong spelling. Formal lessons in spelling patterns are most appropriate once your child has started reading, likely when she is school aged. But directing children’s attention to print and helping them learn to discern and segment consonant and vowel sounds can start years before.
It’s also never too late to improve if you’re the parent of an older child. There are few of us—children and adults of any age—who couldn’t benefit from spelling lessons.
Teach in Order.
Spelling is best tackled bit by bit, day by day. Choose a logical, sequential spelling pattern program as a foundation for your work with your child. As your knowledge and confidence grow, you can tweak, supplement and adapt to best suit your child’s needs and temperament, as well as your time constraints and teaching style. But trying to make up a curriculum as you go or pulling random worksheets and lessons off Pinterest won’t deliver the results you want.
Set Aside Time.
The axiom that “what gets scheduled gets done” is as true in spelling as it is in business. To bolster consistency, tie spelling instruction to existing household routines. Schedule it to happen in the morning with breakfast, during the commute to school, mixed in with nightly homework, or each night before you tuck into bedtime stories. Designate time for working directly with your child and for deepening your own spelling knowledge. Repeated and cumulative practice aids both parent and child!
Seize the Moment.
Kids learn to spell, in part, through repeated, continuous attention to the print they encounter in every aspect of their lives. As you go about daily life with your child, be alert to words that exemplify spelling concepts and patterns that are ripe for review or introduction. Recipes, street signs, pleasure reading, and homework in other subjects all provide great spelling fodder.
Introducing spelling information in response to questions your child has or words they want to write is a great complement to sequential spelling instruction. I read the stories, notes, and lists my daughter writes at school and at home and (subtly) keep a running list of the words she misspells. Authentic writing samples like these show me the words that she reaches for when expressing herself, and I make a point to spend some time casually teaching them. I might tell a story about the word’s origin, relate it to a word she already spells correctly, or give a quick lesson in the patterns it embodies.
Know What’s Happening at School
I encourage parents to take the lead in spelling instruction because it’s often neglected in schools. But it’s also important to find out how your child’s particular school and specific teacher approach spelling.
Do they teach spelling at all? Do they follow a curriculum or rely on specific word lists? If so, which ones and why? Do they focus on visual memorization of words through repeated copying? Is spelling taught as its own topic or combined with reading? How much time do they devote to spelling instruction specifically? Do they teach kids to learn words one by one, or in groups by pattern? How frequently do they review words?
Questions like these will give you a clearer sense of the scope of your (home)work. You’ll discover if your job is complementing strong classroom instruction, supplementing weak instruction, or filling a void of no spelling instruction. Then you can act and teach accordingly.
Have you or could you make spelling practice a family routine like bedtime story reading? Do you have a favorite spelling program that you use at home or that your child uses at school?