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Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Integrate Your Spelling Program into Real Life

When a child wishes to spell a word, he is not merely interested in spelling a word. 

He is interested in communicating an idea.  And if he is able to communicate that idea without spelling it correctly, he might still be perfectly satisfied.

the legend of the crampire

(yes, I know, the grammar could use some work, too)

Because you see, it’s the thought that counts for him.


Legend has it that once upon a time in DukinBill Castle a detective named Monstro, he was there to investigate that a mysterious white and black duck gobbled the food every full moon on midnight and if a foolish duck forgot to leave food the mystery duck would feast on the duck.  Monstro didn’t believe it until he heard a noise downstairs in midnight full moon.  That night he grabbed a candle and this is what he saw:


the crampire

After all, what can’t be communicated with words can often be communicated with pictures.  Right?

Kids talk constantly.  They use hand signals, they point, they draw pictures, they experiment with all the ways that humans get their point across. 

Eventually they develop more complicated ideas.

And, eventually, they want to write it down.  They have to write it down. 

Hopefully, the desire to spell develops naturally from a desire to be understood---I know that Peter absolutely hates it when I can’t quite make out what he’s trying to say in his stories. 

Because NOBODY wants to be misunderstood. 

He wants me to get it.  And, so, he wants to spell it correctly so I will get it.

But let’s look at how spelling is typically taught.

Spelling, by its very nature, is completely wrapped up in communication.  It’s nonsensical outside of context. 

If I were to give you a spelling test and say spell “to,” you wouldn’t know if I wanted you to spell “to,” “two,” or “too,” unless I gave you a sentence using the word, right?

The spelling is absolutely tied to what it is that I want to communicate.

Spelling simply doesn’t make any sense by itself.

It is a means to communicate meaning, not a good in and of itself.

Oh, there, I got all philosophical on you. 

Seriously, though, would you be teaching your kids to spell if they didn’t need to communicate in written language?   Of course not.

But as important as it is to be able to spell (and, I know that some will disagree with me on that---spellcheck, right?---but I’m just going to lay down the law here and say it is important, that’s a topic for another discussion), treating it as a separate subject, untied to communication seems like the wrong way to go about it.

I’ve heard homeschooling mamas lamenting how their children will get the words in the spelling program, but then not carry it over to their own writing.

I’ve experienced it myself.  Let me tell you what I figured out.

Those words lists make it harder.  Even if your spelling program teaches spelling rules or patterns, your child is compartmentalizing that knowledge.

They don’t carry it over, because they see it as something separate---it’s in a box by itself. 

They don’t associate the spelling you are teaching them with the communicating they are trying to do. 

In order for it to stick, spelling needs to grow out of communication.

Now, I’m not telling you to throw out your spelling program (if you use one). 

I’m merely suggesting that you try using it in a different way.

Take your spelling program and make it work for you.  Chop it up and put it back together in a way that serves your child.

Rather than having a “spelling time” or lesson each day where you teach your child some unrelated words, take a close look at what your child is trying to communicate in writing.

You’ll notice that there are

  • some words he always spells correctly (don’t need to teach those),
  • some words he consistently spells incorrectly (and always the same way---you can approach this by teaching the appropriate spelling rules),
  • and some words that he’s just plain guessing at.

What I want you to do is every few days, pick one or two words he’s consistently spelling wrong. 

  • Teach him those words.   
  • Teach him any spelling rules that apply. 
  • Then, this is the important part, together, spell all the words you can think of that follow the same spelling pattern.
  • Don’t forget to talk about any homophones!

spelling in real life

Peter likes to add pictures.

So, here we talked about “e” making the “a” long, and how it has to be “k” instead of “c” before “e,” or it would make a “sss” sound.

The next day, for reinforcement, you can give him opportunities to practice his words.  If he can spell them correctly, move onto some new ones.  But continue to keep an eye on his writing to see if he’s truly carrying it over to his other work.  I think you’ll find that he is.

I think you’ll also find that he’s not guessing as much at the words he just plain has no clue about, because he’s start getting a clue. 

By tackling the words he actually wants to communicate, you give him a big incentive to learn them, but you also give him the tools he needs to be able to spell other words as they occur to him.

And he won’t be stuck spelling short-vowel-one-syllable words when he’s got long vowel or multi-syllabic ideas to express.

What homeschool “subjects” have you torn integrated into general learning?


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