Homeschoolers have the luxury of tailoring their curriculum to each individual child within their home. Some homeschool subjects should always be taught, but there are others that aren’t necessary for every child. One of these subjects is spelling.
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Before you boo and hiss me out off the homeschool mom stage for even suggesting a “traditional” subject like spelling shouldn’t be taught to every child, let me explain…
Some children are natural spellers.
If you have more than one child, you have probably noticed that some of your children seem to know how to spell nearly every word put in front of them while others of your children can spell diddly.
One child breezes through spelling lessons. Another painfully plods through, barely showing any improvement.
It can be maddening.
The fact of the matter is, some people are natural spellers, while others are forever dependent on spell check. And for some, even spell check can’t help them.
Natural spellers are going to be able to spell with or without a spelling curriculum. The best spelling curriculum isn’t going to make them better spellers, and the worst spelling curriculum isn’t going to ruin them.
They just know how to spell…almost effortlessly it seems.
In many cases it is because their brains naturally put letters in sequential order. They literally “see” the words and can easily sequentially line them up in the proper order.
Learn more about Spelling and the Brain here >>
For natural spellers, I see no sense in wasting time in your homeschooling efforts with a spelling curriculum. They simply don’t need it. Later on, we’ll discuss ways to continue to encourage these children’s natural spelling skills.
Some children are NOT natural spellers.
For those children in your homeschool who don’t naturally see words in their heads in sequential order, you have to help them train their brains to order letters correctly.
(Again, check out Spelling & the Brain for more on this!)
How to teach spelling in your homeschool.
If you have a natural speller, don’t bother adding spelling into their homeschool routine, but DO keep an eye on your child’s writing, watching for any deficiencies in their spelling along the way.
We use the Simplex Spelling app to periodically assess how our children are doing with spelling, but I also simply keep an eye on the things my children are writing – from cartoon bubbles to short stories to birthday cards. However, I have often found the kids who started out spelling well typically grow in their spelling abilities as they get older. They rarely need a full-blown spelling program.
Is is also super important to give your kids plenty of opportunities to spell. One thing we do after our kids are reading well, is give them a 30 minute block of time each week for what we call Typing Time. During that time, they are allowed to type stories on the computer. They are not allowed to use this time for games or anything else but writing. I have found this to be extremely useful in getting our kids writing and spelling better.
If I assess that a child needs a spelling program, I usually start in 3rd grade. By this time, a child should be reading well and I should be able to tell if that reader can spell.
Good readers ARE NOT necessarily good spellers.
(Do not fool yourself into believing your voracious reader can spell. Ask me how I know.)
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE:
If your child is not reading well by 3rd grade, I’d still start spelling lessons because in some instances, spelling can actually HELP your struggling reader.
Spelling programs abound and what works for one homeschool family does not necessarily work for another. In fact, what works for one child in your family does not necessarily work for all of your children!
Sorry. It’s one of those sad truths of homeschooling.
But, there are some basic guidelines that are good to follow when choosing a homeschool spelling curriculum for your struggling speller.
Traditional textbooks rarely work.
When my oldest son (who read well beyond his grade level) showed signs of not knowing how to spell proficiently, I tried an old school spelling programs (as in the workbooks from my childhood) and realized quickly that these were pretty much worthless in actually teaching anyone to spell.
I attended the Spelling & the Brain session I mentioned earlier at a homeschool conference and realized WHY these programs don’t work. In fact, it was because of this session, we landed on Phonetic Zoo for our son.
The reason traditional spelling textbooks don’t do a good job of teaching your child to spell is because they tend to teach a child to memorize and regurgitate letters long enough to take a test. After that, nothing is retained and the child goes on about life, still unable to spell the very words they were tested on only days before.
They do not train the brain to see the letters in a word in sequential order.
If auditory spelling programs don’t work, try tactile.
Phonetic Zoo is an auditory-based program, and I think it is a very good program for teaching sequential order; however, IF your child doesn’t respond to auditory lessons, try a more tactile approach like the ones used in All About Spelling.
(One caution: All About Spelling is a more teacher-intensive program than Phonetic Zoo.)
Don’t despair. Spell check isn’t all bad.
Because spelling is such a brain thing, your children who really struggle with it may not ever spell perfectly. They can learn to spell easier words sequentially, but they may always need spell check to help them out. And that’s ok.
No, really – it is.
Stay diligent in their spelling lessons because learning to spell sequentially is good for their brains, and like it or not, spelling correctly is still important in our culture. BUT, teach them to use spell check as they get older.
In fact, the very act of using spell check may help solidify correct spellings in your child’s mind. This was the case for my 16 year old. She used her Typing Time to write stories and when the words on the screen were misspelled and underlined in red, she realized she needed to change the spelling of that word. She would right click and see the correct word, click on it to change it, and as she continued writing and quite possibly encountering that word again, she began to solidify in her mind the correct spelling.
She will always need spell check, but she knows how to use it and now spells tolerably well.
So, to summarize my stance on teaching spelling:
- Wait and watch.
- Assess if your child is a natural speller or a struggling speller.
- Teach spelling to your struggling speller; don’t bother teaching something your natural speller already knows.
- Continue to give every child the opportunity to use their spelling skills.
Originally posted June 2010. Updated May 2021.