Spelling can be one of the most challenging skills to convey to the home schooled student. The importance of spelling is often underestimated by many homeschoolers, much to detriment of the child. Spelling is an important skill with consequences that span the width and depth of early childhood education. The attitude a student has towards her spelling often influences the attitude she will have concerning all her subjects. Care and attention to spelling instills care and attention in all the student does.
But how does one tackle the problem of spelling? The usual plan of attack is to have the child memorize words. This, however, didn’t work for me. Instead, try a plan of attack that starts with instilling the importance of spelling.
My daughter was a really terrible speller. I was very upset about it. She had been part of an experimental pre-school program that had taught her to read using only sight words. That may have been the problem, or at least a contribution.
My husband thought I should just buy her a word processor and be done with it. He is also a terrible speller. He is, however, a phenomenal writer. He started using a word processor in his teens and never looked back. I take spelling seriously. I would prefer my daughter to be able to fix her own work.
But after three years of trying every spelling program available, I finally gave up the idea of a "magic program". I didn't however let her get away with misspelling as the norm. Part of me suspected she wasn't really trying. She’s pretty carefree. So I decided to work on making her care. I dropped all spelling programs and word lists. I increased writing exercises in all other subjects. Anytime she would misspell a word in any subject she would lose points. I would make her find the correct spelling and write the word out five times. I would not help her figure out the correct spelling by giving her the first couple of letters. She was forced to figure out the sounds and spellings on her own.
When we first started this it was very difficult. There were meltdowns, temper tantrums, and stubborn refusals. But I stayed strong. I figured if she never learned to spell then she would only have herself to blame. I was not going to make it easy on her. It took less than a year to see a complete turn around in her spelling. She has become a very proficient speller. And her vocabulary and writing skills have drastically improved.
I no longer make her write misspelled words five times each, she just has to fix them. I also now have her working through the Catholic National Reader: New Speller and Word Book. That little book is amazing, I just found it this year. It has everything you ever needed to know about spelling in one little book. You could start using it as soon as a child learned to read until the day they graduated from High School. It covers spelling, phonics, dictation, copy work, rules, roots & prefixes, trouble words.... everything really, in only 148 pages. It is very Traditionally Catholic. If I had tried to use it with my daughter before, it would have been pointless. Now that she actually takes spelling seriously, she sees it as being helpful. Previously to her understanding the importance of spelling, she would have only seen it as busywork. But now that she actually does care, it is an excellent way to quickly catch up on all the spelling rules, helps & aids that she had previously ignored.
So sometimes the best thing to do is to drop the spelling programs. They might just be making it worse. Kind of like how forcing a kid to eat cold peas, is a good way to make sure they will always hate peas. Instead just keep on them about taking pride in the quality of their work. Make them fix their mistakes. Praise them when they figure out the correct spellings on their own.
You will also see their dictionary skills increase. My daughter is now a wiz at finding words in the dictionary or encyclopedia. This is a good way to build research skills, forcing them to find the correct spellings for their words will help prepare them for finding more complex information later on. When my daughter would be having a really hard time finding a word in the dictionary (because she couldn't figure out the first three letters) she would often try to find the word in other books where she thought it might be found. This was an unexpected teaching opportunity. I was very happy with how well it all worked.
The best way to teach a child to spell is to teach them that spelling is important, the rest will then just fall into place!
Now… on to instilling the importance of spelling in my husband.