When I was a new homeschooler years ago, I read Ruth Beechick’s homeschooing philosophy. She was a pioneer in the movement and had some interesting thoughts. She said that research proved that spelling, taught as a school subject, did no good in the long run—it just didn’t stick.
At the time I was spending time teaching spelling, testing spelling, drilling spelling. When I gave my kids a “review” test after a month, going back and retesting words they had on their list a month ago, I was chagrined to find that Ruth Beechick was right. My kids seemed to forget everything I had taught them in spelling—very frustrating.
Ruth Beechick’s research concluded that children only retain those words that they use in their daily writing, those words that they actually need. All those contrived lists that we find in workbooks—your child may never even speak, let alone write. That made some sense to me. But what to do?
With my children, I stumbled around, trying this spelling program and that. I finally discovered that the best spelling teacher is daily journal writing. I would have my child write on any topic they wanted to, and illustrate it too. Sometimes they would get going on an adventure story, or they would just write about making paper airplanes for a couple of weeks. Whatever topic they wanted to write on was fine with me. As long as they were writing daily. It is in free expression that a child can really enjoy writing, and lots of writing helps make a good speller . . . as long as they have a mentor to help them correct their errors. And the mentor is you, Mom!
When you check your child’s daily schoolwork, read through his journal entry and make a little light pencil mark by any misspelled words. I have my children write their journal entries on specially wide-lined paper in pencil, or erasable pen, so that they can correct each misspelling. If your child is misspelling several words per line, then just choose the most common words to work on first. Let’s not overwhelm them!
Have your child go through and correct the misspelled words on his journal writing page, and have him transfer those misspelled words, writing them correctly on a list to be reviewed daily. A younger child will need your help spelling the word. I always try to find a little “spelling clue” to help them remember, such as find the word end in the word friend—a friend is a friend ’til the end.
For an older child, I put a little number in light pencil at the beginning of the line that contains a misspelled word. If the number is “2”, then he knows there are two misspelled words he has to search for and correct in that line of writing. My child has often responded, “Oh, I knew that was wrong!”, when he sees his my little number! It helps him to develop more care in his spelling if he has to figure out what to correct himself.
I have a favorite book I have used with success to help my young child to spell correctly: A Spelling Dictionary for Beginning Writers. Arranged alphabetically, it helps a beginning writer to find words that he wants to include in his journal writing.
For your older children, my favorite resource is How to Spell It. The beauty of this book is that a student can look up the misspelled word, and the correct spelling is listed. The trouble with using a dictionary for spelling is that if you can’t spell it, how can you look it up to check it? Several common misspellings are listed under each word, so you are sure to find your version of the irksome word! I love this book!
Some children are natural spellers, others struggle with it. But, learning to spell the words one uses everyday seems to be the solution at my house for spelling woes. Daily journal writing is the only method that I found worked consistently—and with holding power—for teaching spelling in my homeschool. And journal writing is a much more pleasant, creative, and productive activity than spelling workbooks!
You might enjoy:
All About Me, Jr.
Kids Talk Writing Ideas
K-5 Journal & Language Arts Program