I get this question a lot: “What spelling program do you recommend?” I hesitantly answer with, “None.” Not because I hate all spelling programs, but because I found out over many years of homeschooling that they didn’t make much difference in my children’s abilities.
Spelling books, lists, and drills seemed to take up our time each school day without actually improving spelling at all. I tried several different curriculum options thinking maybe I just hadn’t found the right one yet. And a few years in, I just kind of gave up for awhile. I wasn’t sure what to try next, so I just didn’t use anything.
But I began to notice something: it didn’t matter. The younger kids, without any spelling curriculum, were doing just as well as their older siblings who had been the guinea pigs for multiple programs. This prompted me to assess what we had been doing that produced these results.
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One thing that has been consistent over my two decades of homeschooling is that we read lots of books. The kids read on their level, and I read aloud to everyone. For all these years, no matter what we are studying, the kids are reading books about it.
Reading books consistently, all kinds of books, exposes children to the written word. This is more powerful than you can imagine. Seeing words repeatedly, in context (instead of lists), matters. But if children don’t look at the words in books, they are missing out on so much natural education.
Children should be reading every single day. Fun books they choose, books you choose for them, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scripture, even newspapers or magazines (obviously within reason). Whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour each day, I strongly believe that it should be required.
Check out my book lists here:
While we’re on the subject of reading, I really need to stress how important it is to teach phonics. There are arguments for and against, but I firmly believe that a foundation in phonics is what gave my children the ability to spell naturally. Even though some phonics rules “don’t make sense,” they are the rules that we need for reading, and if we learn them for reading, we are (unknowingly) learning them for spelling.
So, at about the 4th kid, I deliberately made phonics instruction the basis for spelling instruction, too. I have used both the Abeka Handbook for Reading (just the handbook) and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Both are great, and there are plenty of other great ones, too. But that little Abeka Handbook gave me a simple primer for spelling.
So with each new sound learned, I didn’t just instruct the child to understand how to read it, I taught them to spell words with that sound. I’m not a curriculum designer or a genius or anything; I just accidentally discovered that natural methods work! What a simple method it is to combine reading and spelling, one sound at a time.
I didn’t use the Abeka spelling or reading workbooks; I simply opened the Handbook, taught the sounds, and then showed the child how to read AND spell each word in the list. I’d give verbal spelling quizzes right then, and even “spelling tests.” (I don’t do much quizzing or testing in my homeschool, so when I implement a quiz, the kids think it’s fun.)
Copywork and reading go together so perfectly, and the additional bonus for spelling is that kids are seeing the written words as well as writing them! It is useful for a wide range of language arts instruction, including vocabulary, handwriting, spelling, and grammar. Copying all sorts of written words (just like reading them) gives a child a second level of exposure to them.
For spelling, specifically, it doesn’t really matter what your source material is. Use a prepackaged set, or pick your own text from your own books. With younger children, observe as they write, or prepare them in advance, by asking them to read the selection aloud and then pointing out the proper spelling of words that need attention. Maybe these are new words or sounds, maybe antiquated language, maybe long and difficult words…whatever the spelling rule that needs to be addressed, casually point it out and remind the child to copy it correctly.
If you haven’t used dictation, it’s an extension of reading and copywork for the natural teaching of language arts! Starting small with young children, simply tell them a sentence verbally and ask them to write it down to the best of their ability. If they need help with anything (capitalization, spelling, punctuation), help them. Don’t make it a test for young children. Keep it encouraging and fun. They may guess at the spelling of some words. If they do, remind them of the sounds/blends they have learned, and move on. If they haven’t learned a particular spelling/phonics rule (which is very normal), just demonstrate it. Explain that they will learn this rule soon (or feel free to teach it right now!). While I say not to make it a test, it is similar to one. This is a good time to see what your child has retained in phonics.
As your children get older, you can increase the length of their dictation text, little by little.
These three steps (reading, copywork, and dictation) are probably familiar to many people as part of the Charlotte Mason method of education. There is lots of value in her methods. It’s a gentle, very natural way to teach. Ruth Beechick recommends very similar methods. There’s a reason for their popularity: it’s gentle and effective.
And when it comes to spelling, it’s just the same.
I’m not here to badmouth spelling curriculum, but I had my own frustrations with them, and I get a LOT of questions from parents in the same situation, so I know it’s a common issue. I’m here to encourage you to be confident in natural methods. Language is best developed through usage, and that includes becoming proficient in the use of a person’s native language. Use the words: read them, copy them, see them, and think about them.