Friday, May 8, 2009

Spelling It Out

Correct spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by school ma'ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world. ~Henry Louis Mencken

Too bad for the Princess that I am both mother and school ma'am, who believes that the first step to understanding the written word is to spell it correctly for its use in context.

One of the goals I set quite high for myself is that I find a way to satisfy my own idealistic views of what my child should learn and that I find a way that she enjoys the process of learning those things, even if the particular subject is not inspiring to her. Often that means tweaking available curriculum choices or even devising my own. Fortunately, the Princess likes spelling and is pretty good at it, so it is one of the least difficult subjects to get her to do. For nearly a year, we have been using a no-frills approach that takes only a few minutes a day.

Most of the best spelling programs I liked were for third grade level and up; there was nothing to start with younger children. She was reading beyond third grade level two years ago, but she tired with handwriting, so her writing skills did not match her advanced reading and ability to understand language. I started with Explode the Code by Nancy Hall, which was given to me by a friend, but it became apparent to me it was mostly unnecessary busy work for the Princess and time is a precious commodity when homeschooling.

I then decided to devised my own curriculum using spelling rules and word families based loosely on Phonics Pathways by Dolores G. Hiskes with a index card system. Just one spelling/phonics rule with related word families on each card. Then my daughter would read the rule as well as pronounce and spell each word all aloud. Each day she would then be tested generally following Beverly L. Adams-Gordon's guidelines in Spelling Power, having her write the words and then placing the paper in a binder so I could go back to see the ones she struggled with. I test with the words from the latest rule and review some, particularly those she missed, previously starting with ten words per day, now we do twelve words.

When she gets words wrong, we review the rule out loud again and she practices writing each word in some kind of exercise at least five times. She likes writing them in a large fancy print on her Magna Doodle. Then she spells each one out loud to me without looking. These words are placed first on her next test. Each test paper is placed in a binder so that I can easily find the words she previously misspelled by flipping through the pages. I can also add any words we come across in her other subjects to my test lists.

When I feel the Princess is solid with a rule and the exceptions to the rule should there be any, I add the next card in her index card binder. I have the cards in sets or levels. To make it a bit more fun, colorful, and easily identifiable, I trace a different colors of highlighting markers on the edges. After she is solid with an entire set, I replace it with the rules alone and no spelling words, but I continue to add words from those lists to her test for review now and then, particularly the ones with which she struggled. The reason I went to index cards is that the Princess would get overwhelmed with so many words on one page as in a book. Even if I covered them, she knew they were there, so the index card system works for her very well.

Although this has been working, I keep looking for that perfect spelling curriculum, so that I will not have to continue putting one together myself. With that in mind, I purchased Natural Speller by Kathryn Stout last year and I have looked at Spelling Workout (the non-athletic one) by Phillip K. Trocki and Sequential Speller (really like how they emphasize the homophones, but it lacks in rules) by Don McCabe, but I have not felt any alone were a good match for us at this time. Either they don't emphasize the spelling/phonics rules enough; or they don't provide enough repetition or too much; or they are too limited in the word lists or their word lists are not word family oriented enough.

I don't know, perhaps I am just too picky when it comes to spelling curricula. At this point I could probably switch to any of them, but I was kind of thinking of continuing with my own curriculum for a while longer and possibly offering at least a set or group of sets (one level) of it for free and the rest for a very inexpensive download fee, maybe?

Whatever I am doing must be working or the Princess may be just getting to that level of learning on her own, because her spelling has improved even on words we have not covered. It kind of makes me wonder, is it the spelling program I have devised or is it just that her abilities have matured. Not that it matters, I am happy with the results.

My Lord, please continue to guide me in finding the most efficient ways to make learning an enjoyable process for my daughter.


  1. Spelling is one of those things I went ape over for a while. Initially the way our DE program worked the spelling was completely random. Ditz has always been a pretty good speller but no thanks to this insane program! I supplemented using spelling families ~ which at least made sense to me. I think, & have always thought, that a. good readers will usually be good spellers just because they see the same words over & over & over & b. understanding the rules does more to encourage good spelling than lists of words. I moved away from lists years ago & concentrated on the rules & c. when writing & asked how a word was spelt I never encouraged Ditz to just try, resulting in mispelt words. I always spelt the word correctly for her because it is important to spell it right. She spells very well now. I rarely have to correct her dictation for spelling errors & when I do it is usually the result of pure carelessness. Unfortunately, as is invarably the case, programs you make yourself are always the best because they are so specifically tailored to your own particular child.

  2. I suppose that is true. Of course, leaning on the classical approach, I have found that even rote, which I find such a boring approach to teach personally, works well with the Princess and now she is beginning to seek understanding on her own, as she is developing into the logic stage.


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.