how do people learn how to spell? - Mothering Forums
Unschooling > how do people learn how to spell?
blue heron's Avatar blue heron 10:01 AM 01-18-2012

I'm curious about how this happens.  I'm a pretty good speller, learn things easily visually, read a lot, was forced to do all those spelling tests in school.  Recently I heard some very mainstream moms on a podcast saying teachers at their school said studies show that memorizing spelling for tests doesn't work.  My 8yo ds reads tons, writes almost not at all, does lots of stuff on the computer, and always asks me to spell almost everything.  It almost seems like he just doesn't care to think about how to spell things.  So, I just keep spelling stuff for him and assume someday it will sink in, or he'll decide it's something he wants to know, or not.  It makes me wonder about how people learn spelling, is there a way that works?  what makes some of us good spellers and some bad?  and how much will it matter with computers?

Imakcerka 10:15 AM 01-18-2012

Eh doesn't everything really just boil down to memorization? 

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 10:37 AM 01-18-2012

My husband is a horrendous speller.  He's not good at it, and frankly he just doesn't really care.  And he has me!  He's a great practical thinker, great at judging three dimensional space and general mechanical things that leave me a blubbering mass unless I have something tangible for reference.


I generally spell things for my girls as well, because my mother's insistence that I always figure things out for myself really pissed me off as a kid.  There is something to learn from thinking about things, but I honestly think that repetition will get the job done as well.  I think spelling drills were more important in the days before the average person could afford even a dictionary.  Now we have dictionaries and the internet and spellchecks.  It is just less relevant, which does not make spelling entirely unnecessary.... necessarily.


My girls are 5 and 7.  One of my favorite videos is the Charlie Brown special, I don't remember the bane, where he is headed to the spelling bee.  I think for unschooling kids this young, it might be a good introduction to spelling.

Luckiestgirl's Avatar Luckiestgirl 05:39 PM 01-18-2012

My oldest child began reading at age 5, but until maybe two months ago he asked me to spell most things for him.  The words he did know weren't just the easy ones; they were the ones he had reason to write a whole lot.  For example, he could spell "Transformers" soon after he began to read.  He recently (at age 8) just took off with spelling, and frankly I'm astounded at what a good speller he is.  It's as if his spelling is suddenly on par with his reading skills, which are at approximately a seventh grade level. 


My second child is still becoming fluent at reading at age 6, but interestingly, her spelling is much more on par with her reading level.  If she can read the word, she can spell it.  It's as if the same process is involved in reading and spelling a word, whereas with my son being able to read the word and being able to spell it were two separate processes.

OTMomma's Avatar OTMomma 06:02 PM 01-18-2012

I think spelling is a skill that comes easily for some people, like math, and is harder for others. I don't think it goes hand in hand with reading for everyone, I can read tons of words I can't spell.  I think its a special kind of memorization.  I am using Spelling Power with my 9 year old, because spelling wasn't coming along for her, and she was choosing not to write anything because she couldn't spell and she didn't want to ask me.  Its a great program because it only makes a child practice words they don't know, and the author recommends not starting the program before age 8.  Dd's spelling has improved a lot since starting the program.

purslaine's Avatar purslaine 08:29 PM 01-18-2012

I do not spell well.  I do not seem to have the kind of mind that picks up on it - double letters (like necessary - two c's?  two s'es?)  are the trickiest!


I did not do spelling with my older 2  - one spells well, one has average spelling.


My youngest, so far, has horrendous natural spelling - we have started to gently work on it and she seems to be memorising spelling words easily.  We will see if it sticks, though.  I have hesitations around whether or not spelling exercises work in the long run. 


I do not think this is a huge life skill, btw.  It has not held me back at all.  Spellcheck is very handy for people like me! winky.gif  For a real world application, it means I have to devote more time to editing than other people.  Oh, well.


Everyone in our house reads a lot, so that does not seem to be relevant. 


I am also tempted to add whenever I post "sent from iphone or NAKing"  (not that I have done that in a while, lol) to excuse my poor spelling.  I do have a mild complex about my poor spelling - like it needs excusing - but maybe that is just me and my own perfectionism coming through.

Piglet68's Avatar Piglet68 08:46 PM 01-18-2012

I am not sure if this counts as a "photographic memory" but I have always been good at rote memorization and I do it by forming images in my mind (a word, a page of notes) and then when I need to recall the information I "read" the image in my mind. I was an early reader and a very good speller. For me, reading lots meant I could recall an image of a word and then just read off the letters to spell it. 


Fast forward many decades and my daughter appears to have a very visual memory too. Her early attempts at spelling revealed an interesting pattern - mistakes tended to be those that made the word LOOK like the right word, even if the pronunciation was very different. In other words, in attempting to spell a word she wasn't thinking about how it sounded, but how it looked.


I always answer my kids' requests to spell words for them, always have. DD is a good speller and doesn't ask me much anymore. DS is just starting to chat online so he's full of spelling questions these days. 

moominmamma's Avatar moominmamma 11:03 PM 01-18-2012

For people with strong visual memory skills it seems to come pretty much by magic. My kids all seem to be of this sort, as am I. I wouldn't call it memorization per se, which suggests that effort i is expended to put something into one's memory. None of my kids had any systematic teaching of spelling or phonics. All are excellent spellers, far above average. Reading seems to be all that's necessary for my kids. Within a couple of years of becoming fluent readers, their spelling was almost perfect. My 8-year-old has had a blog from about the age of 4 and you can watch her spelling unfold. About a year after she became a fluent reader, it just suddenly began clicking. She now spells as well as most adults, though admittedly her vocabulary isn't as extensive. This fits with what some old-time experienced homeschoolers told me way back when, that spelling skills can lag by up to two years behind reading skills. So your child can be expected to spell with reasonable proficiency what he or she was able to read with reasonable proficiency two years ago. If your child was reading words like "cat" and "pot" two years ago and is now pretty much fluent but still mis-spells words like "where" and "Christmas," well, some patience may still be in order.  


Teaching patterns and phonics rules and all that seems to be a sensible approach for those children whose visual memories aren't as capable, who don't fit with the two-year rule. Given that this is the unschooling forum I'll say that I think it would be perfectly appropriate to wait until the child is motivated and finds the work meaningful. 


Spell-checkers can be excellent learning tools. My kids love turning them off, typing out their text, and then clicking "check spelling" to see if they've missed any mis-spellings that the computer has correctly identified.



SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 08:47 AM 01-19-2012

Memorization the spelling of a single word can be tricky for some of us.  I am very good at memorizing lyrics and as an actress in college, my lines.  They were integral to a larger whole.  Music would make things even easier, like when my brain easily remembered the tune, it sucked in the words, too orngtongue.gif.  It's almost like disassociated bits of knowledge don't file themselves away as easily as bits with other associations, like music, or a phrase, an image or something.  That said, I've always been a pretty good speller, except "occasionally".  It finally sunk in for me that it only has one "s"!

moominmamma's Avatar moominmamma 09:16 AM 01-19-2012

Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post 
Music would make things even easier, like when my brain easily remembered the tune, it sucked in the words, too orngtongue.gif.  

Ah, it sounds like your aural memory skills are very strong. Much like how those of us with very strong visual memories "suck in the spelling" just by reading the words. 


Brains are such neat things ... their differences as much as their similarities!



mapleleaf's Avatar mapleleaf 07:31 AM 01-20-2012

I also had to do all those spelling tests in school and was still a horrible speller.  I am much better at spelling as an adult and I believe it`s because I read so much. 


I think it`s the same for children.  After they learn to read and encounter the word again and again it just sticks.  Right now my daughter asks how to spell many things and I tell her, I'm sure that helps.  Many times she just sounds words out......but that doesn`t always work with english:-/ 


bandgeek's Avatar bandgeek 06:17 AM 01-26-2012

I've been wondering the same thing.  My son doesn't like to write and has difficulty with spelling.  He would be in first grade this year, but is reading at about a 3rd grade level.  His writing/spelling skills are closer to average for his age.  He doesn't just see a word in a book and then know how to spell it.


Spelling was always easy for me.  I remember being in 1st grade and just "knowing" when something wasn't spelled right.  I'd erase and fix it, erase and fix it, until it was perfect.  I always got 100% on spelling tests.  My S/O is an awful speller.  His strengths are in math/computers/music (I would consider him "gifted", he's very, very smart).  Writing and  He gets by and of course relies on spell check a lot.  And me.  The other day he asked me how to spell "hungry".  I'm like "You are 29 years old and can't spell hungry!?"  LOL  I try not to give him too hard a time though. ;-)  I have a hard time wrapping my head around how he can do complicated math in his head and can't spell "hungry".  He doesn't understand how I can spell a word I've never heard before but sometimes still count on my fingers. LOL


I used to do spelling tests with DS (I'm trying to get away from that which is why I'm reading here!) and I think it's not so much memorization as it is familiarity and fluency.  Maybe familiarity and fluency eventually lead to memorization, even if you didn't set out to memorize, but I couldn't just set him down and make him write a word 10 times and he'd learn it.  He could write it a bazillion times and it meant nothing to him.  If he saw the word in print a lot, plus had "tricks" to remember it, plus had to write it more often (high-frequency words are easier for him because he uses them ALL the time), and THEN was "tested" on it, he'd probably get it right.


I did download a spelling app on the iPad I might see if he's interested in.

CatsCradle's Avatar CatsCradle 08:07 AM 01-26-2012

Interesting question, OP, I was just thinking about this the other day.  (btwn:  I'm not an unschooler but this conversation is interesting to me because DD is starting to read and these questions pop up for me).


I don't know if this means anything to anyone else, but I have always been a visual learner:  can look at something once and remember it.  But, I have to see it in order to process it in my brain. I'm a decent speller and as long as I can make visual connections with symbols/words, I remember stuff.   I noticed that DD is the same way.  I was teaching her music notes the other day on the piano and she looked at the music and remembered the notes immediately.  There is an element of memorization to that in that one's brain is basically remembering something.  If your brain doesn't work like that, then I would think that things like spelling lists would be less beneficial.  I mean, if you work at it long enough, then perhaps you will begin to remember, but I don't see in any joy in that. 

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 11:37 AM 01-28-2012

Originally Posted by bandgeek View Post

 The other day he asked me how to spell "hungry".  I'm like "You are 29 years old and can't spell hungry!?"  LOL  I try not to give him too hard a time though. ;-)  I have a hard time wrapping my head around how he can do complicated math in his head and can't spell "hungry".  He doesn't understand how I can spell a word I've never heard before but sometimes still count on my fingers. LOL


I talked with my dh the other day about this, and he says the letters seems to jump around on the page for him.  I didn't press him for details, but he is a great reader.  Perhaps it's when he's focussing too intently on the word, like you would if you needed to memorize the spelling, or trying to read an unfamiliar word  Otherwise I can't understand how he can read so easily to himself.  Having started school in 1968, "dyslexia" was not something looked for back then.  That's also why he's better I think with geometry and math concepts than actual written equations.

mattemma04 12:58 PM 01-29-2012


orangefoot's Avatar orangefoot 05:46 PM 01-29-2012

My now nearly 9yo has been writing since she was 4yo and back then she wrote what she thought and didn't care about the spelling until a year or so ago when she started asking me about spelling a lot more an dof course I told her what she wanted to know. She is now more aware of 'correct' spellings for words and is getting better at spelling words correctly consistently. If she asks me a spelling I can ask her to try it how she thinks and very often now she is spot on or very close. She can also use a book called the ACE spelling dictionary which has you identify vowel sound then search for the word you want in a list of words with the same initial letter and number of syllables.


My 5yo on the other hand wants to write but won't write to get things done like notices or insults or cards or whatever but won't actually do it because she "Can't spell, okaaaay."  What she has in common with her older sister and brothers is a very large and varied vocabulary. I wonder if this is more of a problem for non schooled kids than schooled ones. When my boys were in the first years of school they only wrote simple things as that was all they were asked to write. They knew many, many more words than they ever wrote but the opportunities to use them only came later. Conversely, my girls want to write the words that they use in speech and this is a lot harder than just making simple sentences from cvc words and conjunctions.


5yo dd is starting to recognise all sorts of words and the world of words is coming to life for her, like it did her sister, but this writing thing is totally different.


We got an envelope template thingie this week and they have been making loads of cards to send to friends and family with handmade envelopes which is great and super creative but the spelling and writing is making me a bit dizzy! I can't spell two different words at the same time from two girls lying on the floor writing and shouting at me with different levels of frustration. I need to manage this in a different way but yesterday I realised that this is exactly what people think happens every day in a home educating family. I'm so glad I'm not actually trying to *make* them do this against their will as that would be truly horrible for all of us.


So, no answers here, I'm just on the journey too.



Sarasyn's Avatar Sarasyn 09:44 AM 02-04-2012

I know I'm weighing in here a little late, but I used to be a notoriously bad speller.  All through grade school I would struggle through spelling tests and barely pass.  It was like my brain could only suck in as much of our weekly spelling tests as it took to pass, but nothing more.  It wasn't that I was just doing enough to get by, because occasionally a test would come through that I would get all of the words right.  I just didn't "get" spelling.


Years later, when I was in high school and everyone had departed from the idea of spelling tests, my teacher shocked us all with returning to spelling tests.  However, this wasn't like we used to do them in grade school.  I mean, to some degree it was.  Our work every week would be to use the word in sentences so we could practice spelling them correctly in context and at the end of the week we'd be quizzed on our spelling, however, we had one list for the entire year, a list of the top twenty most commonly misspelled words.  Everyone got a kick out of the fact that "misspelled" was actually one of the words on the list!  Anyhow, I digress.  We'd take the test each week with the same set of words.  We were "graded" on them, but they never were a part of our class grade.  We were doing it for our own enrichment, so I guess you could say if you really didn't want to learn, you didn't have to.  However, at the end of the year everyone passed the test.  For years I thought about this and wondered why everyone learned to spell these words.  Was it the constant repetition?  Was it the focus on learning how to write these words?  Honestly, I think it's what the teacher said.  He told us all that spelling was an important life skill.  Sure, you can always use spell check on a computer, but what if you've got to write a note by hand?  What if you're filling out a job application in person (though that's a lot less common these days).  What about the internet where you don't have spell check?  Sure, a lot of forums have them now.  A lot of browsers also allow you to right-click on the word to find the right spelling, but what if (as I've done many times before) the suggestions they give you don't even relate to the word you're trying to spell.  Learning how to spell really becomes a practical skill at that point.


Where has that gotten me?  I used to not care about spelling.  I used to figure spell check would solve all my problems, but now I'm actually using spell check as a way to teach myself to spell.  When I see that little red underline I keep respelling it until I either spell it right or realize I've just got to give up.  I've learned to spell a number of words this way, and there's a few that I'm still learning.  For bad spellers, it's really a matter of memorization, as much as I hate to say it.  Either you've got to take the time to work on memorizing it, or you've got to hope it just sinks into your memory somehow, but I think for us bad spellers, hoping it will just sink in one day is a bit much to ask.


With my daughter, she's a bad speller.  I've never told her that she must learn to spell or anything like that.  However, I do try to tell her the same things that my teacher told me.  It's easier for other people to read what you're writing if you can spell correctly.  Future employers will notice things like your spelling.  Even being an artist like my daughter wants to be, owners of galleries will get an impression of you through your writing.  It's a vital skill, and spell check won't always be there for you.  It's something good to learn in case you ever need to know it.  So far this seems to be helping my daughter learn to write because she doesn't ask me how to spell almost anything.  Instead she'll go look it up to copy it because she really wants to learn how to spell on her own. She does ask me if she can't find the word.


Honestly, I think it's more about helping your child find the drive to learn how to spell.  If you can show them it's an important skill and they find reason to value it, they're likely to learn it on their own whether you teach them or not.  Take my daughter, she's still a horrible speller, but she's figured out how to spell words I had no idea she'd want to learn to spell, like "chemistry".  Granted, if you go by the idea that what she should be able to spell should be her reading level two years ago, seeing as she wanted nothing to do with reading back then, she's doing pretty good!  But if you count it based on what kids at her reading level were able to read two years ago, then she's definitely behind, but she's only been reading for the past three or four months, so it makes sense.  Still, for someone who's been spelling as long as she has, she's doing pretty good!  Like I said, it's all about helping your child think it's an important skill, because if it's important to them, you won't be able to stop them from learning to spell if you tried!

Tags: Unschooling