Ways to help your child with spelling
Children generally learn about putting letters together to make basic words around the ages of five or six.
Then comes the grind of the weekly spelling test, as well as all those little sight words that don't follow the rules and just need to be learned off by heart. Here are some tips and ideas to help those spellings sink in.
Do lots of fun writing
You could try writing secret messages to each other while exploring the outdoors by using pebbles, sticks or pinecones to form letters and words. When we are initially trying to get kids enthused about writing and what it means, 'kid spelling' is fine. At that stage, we are trying to emphasise how spelling words to communicate with one another can be a fun thing and that it doesn't have to come with the burden of 100% accuracy.
However, you can also try this fun writing approach when kids have a list of words that they need to learn for a spelling test. The more cognitive attention that a child has to give to forming the word - for example, by making it out of leaves rather than simply writing it on a page - the more likely it is for the correct order of letters to stick in their long term memory.
Make repetition fun
Lots of the first words kids need to learn are words which are exempt from the spelling rules, like the, and, or yes. Because they can't be decoded like other words, it's usually just a matter of going over them until they sink in.
We aren't advocating the young next door neighbour kids' approach, which was to dip yard brushes in a tin of paint and write 'stop' over and over again on the road outside our houses in white emulsion, while galloping with the brushes between their legs like hobby horses. But a steamed up mirror, foggy car windows, or huge letters with a big stick on the beach all end in the same outcome (without resulting in criminal damage or being grounded for a month).
Again, repetition is the only way to get those sight words cemented into the long term memory, and if you can make the method more fun and multi-sensory, kids are more likely to engage with the repetitive leg work that gets those words thoroughly learned.
Make it functional
Writing is a great form of communication. Teach kids how useful it can be by showing them its application in real life. Help them write a postcard to a friend or grandparent and arrange for them to receive one in return. When children understand how something is meaningful in their lives, it gives them great motivation to continue to want to get it right.
See the words
The more a child sees a word, the more likely they will be able to remember how to spell it. Play card games where kids need to match words to expose them to as many viewings of sight words and basic words as possible so that they start to instinctively know when a word looks right.
When it's tricky…
Make it beautiful
Writing words they need to learn for spellings in different colours is a good way to get the order of the letters engrained. Make a rainbow of those tricky words by writing over and over the same word in different colours.
Highlight the hard bits
If your child is continually making the same mistake with a particular word, look carefully at the part that they are finding tricky and highlight this part in a different colour.
Seek the patterns
Look for parts of words that are spelled the same, for example, est, er and ing at the end of words, and un or re at the start. Hunt for the letters 'ing' for example, in your bedtime reading book. Kids love shouting out when they spot the ing words!
Use a hack
Mnemonic devices are like little hacks to help remember those tricky words. For example, Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move is a phrase you can learn to help you spell the word 'rhythm'. And Big Elephants Can't Always Use Small Exits helps kids get the letters of the word 'because' in the correct order. Why not make up your own for those words that keep on getting misspelled?
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