Spelling is important. Good spelling not only shows respect for the reader it also demonstrates that children have mastered the skills that allow them to spell.
But what if a child is struggling to spell? What if your bright child consistently makes spelling mistakes? What can you do to help?First, you need to know WHY your child has trouble spelling. Trust me, until you know WHY there is little point deciding HOW and WHAT you are going to do to help.
So, WHY can’t your child spell?
As most of you know I talk about the 12 essential skills children need to be able to learn, to be able to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. What skills do children need to be good at spelling?
1. Physical skills
It goes without question that children need to be able to see words and hear the sounds the letters make – so let’s assume that your child has these skills and look at the higher order skills children need to spell well.
2. Emotional skills
Children who struggle to spell well may start to lose confidence and not to care about their work, but these tend to be secondary issues – they happen BECAUSE you child can’t spell and are not reasons why your child can’t spell.
So we are left with ….
3. Cognitive skills ( assuming that you have checked out your child’s vision and hearing!)
Children need to be able to link sounds to letters at first but then, very quickly, spelling becomes a pattern recognition exercise. When you read you do not sound out every word, you recognize them, they become pictures in your head. These pictures are created by groups of letters that you know and that make sense to you.
For instance – you learn that there is a difference between ‘site’ and ‘sight’ – not because they make different sounds but because the words ‘look’ different.
Children need to have developed skills of visual understanding – pattern recognition – if they are going to be able to spell well.
But having this skill does not always solve the problem. Many children who are poor spellers have this skill but are not aware that they can use it to help them spell. They try to use other skills such as memorization to help them and it just doesn’t work well. There are far too many words to learn how to spell to be able to memorize them all.
Yes, reading more can help children ‘see’ more words but the problem is they never get to see several words with the same pattern at the same time so they never realize that it is the pattern of letters that is important.
Teachers don’t help when they set long lists of unrelated words for children to learn. All a kid can do is to try and memorize them – a sure recipe for disaster.
The best strategy is to play the kind of games (it is always good to make spelling fun!) where you decide on one word pattern and see how many words you can find that fit that pattern.
For example – What words end in ‘ight’? What words end in ‘art’ – (see how this can be fun? I am sure that your child will come up with the ‘f’ word).
It doesn’t mater what pattern you use – just help your child understand that it is the pattern that matters – help you child develop the skill of visual understanding. Once your child has this skill she can use it in a million ways.
Make life easier for you and your child, give him or her the skills that lead to success!