Saturday, June 28, 2008

Growing into Spelling


I don’t teach spelling to my kids. No lists, no books with puzzles and tests, no quizzing over words and memorizing patterns.

I tried. I really did. My oldest daughter, who is very word-oriented, opened her nice, new second grade speller and promptly aced the post-test at the end of the book. I saved it for her sister, who was so bored by the endless listsand constant busywork that she would hide under her bed when spelling time came around. It didn’t seem to translate onto her written pages anyway: she could spell perfectly on the tests, and then spell ‘creatively’ in her stories. So The Book was put aside after about three units, and I didn’t bother to buy the upper levels.


With Son #1, I didn’t have time to bring out The Book. Or maybe I kept forgetting on purpose. He was an atrocious speller until he was nine and he discovered the joys of email and publishing stories on a family website. Suddenly, spelling was important, and he the words seemed to spring – correctly spelled - from him fingers! His middle brother had the same letter-related epiphany at ten, and the youngest son, at nine, is in the middle of that time of discovery right now.


When they needed spelling, they learned to spell. For all of them, the turning point came when they wanted to communicate with someone through print. Our daughters wanted to send letters to pen pals, and later emails to friends. Our sons wanted to write stories and songs, and send messages online. Even then there was no ‘studying’ involved. They just used the sense of the printed word that they’d gained in reading.


My experiment is continuing. Our youngest daughter, at six, is fascinated with spelling, and often asks me to spell words for her to print or type. She'll do crosswords with help, but the mere sight of lists of words sends her off to visit her Polly Pockets.


Of course, we’re all wired a bit differently, and maybe some kids don’t have the ‘spelling gene’. For them, a basic course in the mechanics of spelling may be just the trick, especially if they've reached ten or twelve and haven't had it 'click' yet. But for many kids (and their multi-tasking parent/teachers), maybe one less workbook would mean a few more minutes to play Legos!!
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