Email: Spelling

Hello, Julie.

I have some samples and questions regarding my son’s horrid spelling that I was hoping you would not mind giving me some guidance with.  My son, Clay, just turned 9 in March and he says he hates to write (and read).  He reads at grade level (3rd) or a little below.  He enjoys stories ~ he says he hates reading however because he stresses himself out regarding the length of the story and the amount of writing per page.  He does plenty of copy work and has very neat writing.  He is struggling with creative writing because he is challenged to get his thoughts out of his head and onto paper.  We don’t do a lot of creative/freewriting becasue he is young and I don’t push him.

Although, we have recently begun the Friday Freewrite idea and he is finally beginning to get over his writing fears and put his thoughts on paper.  Often, when we do have writing requirements, he will dictate to me and I will either write or type his thoughts.  We were doing “Spelling Power” as part of our school day and he was able to improve his spelling ~ but only on his spelling test ~ not in his other writing and due to time/schedule issues we were no longer to complete spelling daily and then it was pointless ~ he would have forgotten all the words he once could spell once we returned to the curriculum and then he was very frustrated.  So, we haven’t done any spelling in a long while and I wasn’t concerned.

On Mother’s Day he gave me two Mother’s Day Coupons.  They read (complete with his spelling inside the ” “):

This Mother’s Day Coupon is Good For: “Go git the mal and tack the mal out, and drie the dishiz” With Love, “Clay” (Go get the mail and take the mail out and dry the dishes)

This Mother’s Day Coupon is Good For: “2 cisiz and 1 hog, and macing your day spesholl.”  With Love, “Clay” (2 kisses and 1 hug and making your day special)

I loved his Mother’s Day coupons and told everyone all about them ~ but I did not leave them out for others to see and I never mentioned to him that he had misspelled anything.  He is easily embarrassed when others notice his poor spelling and he is very sensitive to this issue because his sister (who is 21 months older) is a wonderful speller and would write 4-5 pages for a Friday Freewrite.  No one compares him to her ~ except himself!

Do I need to do something now or should I continue to just wait while doing lots of read-aloud from good literature, having him read good books, and completing copywork assignments?  What about Spelling Power ~ are you familiar with it?  Would you recommend something different?

Thank you for your time.  I greatly appreciate all of your wonderful resources available on your website.

Have a wonderful day,

Hi Angie!

Thanks for your email. Your questions are echoed in many emails I get every week. Let’s take a look at your particular situation and see if we can teast apart your concerns and how to help your son, and thereby help some other moms too.

First off, your instincts about freewriting are dead on. When a child feels stressed by conveying his thoughts to paper (and nine is so young!), it’s important to respect that boundary just like you wouldn’t push your child to lift a 25 lb. weight if he told you it really hurt! You’d work up to it slowly with other exercises. Neat handwriting is a wonderful skill to have cultivated by nine! Feel good about that.

What you want to remember now is that you and your son are in the Partnership Writing phase of development. That means that the writing he does is largely supported by you. Your goal isn’t to “get him to write his thoughts.” Your goal is to draw out his mind life and to help him get those ideas to paper (whether he moves the pencil or not). What that means is that you can jot his ideas down for him or type them up or even record them on a little digital recorder to transcribe later in the day. Right now, his mind is outpacing his transcription skills. We want to be sure we don’t miss all that good vocabulary and idea development simply because it hurts his hand to write. Instead, you help him in the area you can: transcription. He offers what he can: words, ideas, thoughts, memories, information. Together, you get his thoughts to paper.

As far as original writing and spelling go, first of all those coupons are adorable!! Please save them in the baby book or homeschool records because, sadly, he will not always spell dishes “dishiz” and honestly, is there any cuter spelling you’ve ever seen? Remember, spelling is a slowly developed skill that takes about ten years to become natural and fluent. Early on, kids who are giving attention to what they want to say, have a hard time also focusing on how to spell it. That’s why they can pass spelling tests (a list of words requiring no original thinking) and can’t remember to spell the same words correctly while trying to think thoughts. Too much brain activity before the spellings have become automated.

The best way to help your son right now is to remember this principle:

Use someone else’s writing to teach mechanics.
That means you will encourage copywork (and eventually dictation) that help your son learn mechanics and spelling in the context of real writing without his having to come up with original thoughts.

Use original writing to teach your child to think.
Don’t worry about mechanics (for awhile) when focusing on original writing. Focus instead on vocabulary, ideas, insights, humor, surprise, facts, detail, vivid images and so on. Do what you can to help get those words to a page (if he writes some and you write some, that’s fine). As he becomes more proficient in his handwriting skills and his mechanical know-how (as demonstrated in copywork and dictation), he’ll begin to transfer those skills to his original writing. (Not usually in the first draft, but eventually, during revision and editing your child will notice his errors and will be able to correct them.)

I personally don’t think spelling programs do much to teach kids to spell in original writing. If your child is consistently doing copywork and gradually shifts to dictation, he will make strides in spelling that eventually transfer to his writing.

Hope that helps!



5 Responses to “Email: Spelling”

  1. Angie says:

    Oh ~ thank you so much for your reply. Your kind words and wise advice were so appreciated today. It really encouraged me to have you notice how very cute my son’s misspelling was (even more cute than the “dishiz,” I especially like that he is going to give me “1 hog”). I actually giggled and shed a tear over the joy of my Mother’s Day Coupons when I looked at them from the perspective of being adorable baby book momentos. I really don’t want to look at everything he does from the perspective of our success with homeschooling ~ so, thank you for the reminders to relax and enjoy this wonderful journey called parenting!

  2. My daughter’s spelling is likewise atrocious and she’s 12. I laugh. Because the alternative is to cry. She takes after my father, who says that only the advent of word processing programs with their little red lines under misspelled words has helped him.

    I like to call her spelling Shakespearean in nature.

  3. Katie says:

    Thanks for posting this– I have a question on partnership writing. I have a daughter who is almost twelve, and just about dies when I ask her to write something. She absolutely hates freewrites and does everything she can (even math!) to avoid having to do a written narration. I had thought we ought to move past Partnership Writing to the next stage, but she is very resistant to that. When she narrates orally, she comes out with great ideas and connections, but her written narrations are very brief, if accurate. I guess I need to go back to partnership writing with her. How long can we continue partnership writing before she needs to move on to the next stage?


  4. Tanya says:

    I loved this article. My son’s spelling is terrible and I think this helped keep perspective and also a new idea to try. Thanks!

  5. Kristen says:

    I love seeing this! My perfectionist son has a hard time getting all his great story ideas down because he gets so hung up on spelling (and I promise, it’s not something I push … we don’t even do a spelling curriculum yet!). He’s FINALLY gotten the idea that a rough draft can look as messy as you want and I am SO PROUD as the invented spelling he uses! (You can bet I am saving it in his portfolios!)

    It also helps that his reading took off this year and he can almost manage to use his junior dictionary to help him. Other times we write out lists of common words he wants for his story, and he’ll use that as a reference.

    (We do plenty of letting him dictate his ideas, but he also likes to try to write during his before-lights-out bedroom time, so he’s had to learn to just let it go and let it be less than perfect.)

    He’s only in first grade so I’ve tried not to fret, but my husband just laughs and laughs every time I get excited about a misspelled word he comes up with. 🙂 (I’m a former spelling bee champ locally so this seems ironic to him.)

    I also remind my kids that pencils come with erasers for a reason, which helps. And I let them see me use the eraser, or the delete button, in my own writing.

    Just glad to see a post that reminds us the mechanics of writing are a separate process from getting the ideas down on paper! 🙂