Monday, March 31, 2014

Spelling: Four Ways

In a month or so, we'll be wrapping up our 7th year of homeschooling.  I remember that when we first started "7 years" sounded like forever and I thought that homeschooling families who had done it for that long must be experts. 

I certainly never feel that way, regardless of the almost 7 years under my belt (is that what that is?).  What I do feel, though, is that I'm much better accustomed to going with the flow, tweaking and changing what we do to make it fit instead of lamenting over whether I make the perfect choice of curriculum for each subject every year.

Spelling is a perfect example of this and one of the reasons I love homeschooling.  If something isn't working, I can change it!  Over the years of Sam (K-6th) and Sadie (K-2nd), we've used four different spelling programs.  I thought it might be helpful to share a little bit about them in case our experience might benefit your family.

Spelling is a odd thing.  I have never been very good at it.  The English language has so many funny rules and many of the rules don't apply at random times and often for no apparent reason.  No wonder it can be tricky for kids to learn!  Here's a bit of our journey....

I started both Sam and Sadie out with the Spelling Workout books.  They reminded me most of what I remember doing in public school for spelling.  Each week, the child is presented with a list of words that have something in common.  Then they're given short exercises to practice spelling their words with little boxes the right size and height for each letter to act as clues.  I would also ask them to occasionally write sentences that used their list words or practice writing trouble words a certain number of times.

Sam breezed through the workbooks the first few years and then became incredibly bored with them.  He is a voracious reader which helps immensely with spelling.  He certainly doesn't always spell words correctly right off the bat but he can look at a word he's written and know whether it looks right or not because he's so familiar with the written language.

Sadie breezed through the first year of Spelling Workout but then began to have trouble.  There was little explanation of rules and reasons as to why more challenging words were spelled in a way she wasn't expecting. Just memorizing the spelling was difficult (and no fun for sure), so we abandoned them for Sadie as well.

Back to Sam.  After Spelling Workout we tried Sequential Spelling. It is one of the spelling programs recommended by Sonlight and I was intrigued because it looked so different.  Each day, the child is dictated a rather long list of words.  As they write them down, the parent is watching and immediately corrects any misspellings.  There are no tests, no exercises.  Just a list each day to dictate.  Words in the list are repeated and share prefixes or suffixes so patterns are established.

There wasn't really anything wrong with this program other than I kept thinking about another spelling program I had on my shelf that I had wanted to try: Spelling Wisdom.  This is a Charlotte Mason-inspired spelling curriculum which is also based on dictation but instead of dictating lists of words, excerpts or poems from famous writers are dictated.  The child is exposed to excellent writing and through the chosen passages, the child learns to spell the 6,000 most used words in the English language.  

The way it works is that parent and child read through the passage together and determine which words the child doesn't know how to spell already.  The child practices and studies those and once they can spell them, the passage is dictated to them to ensure they can, indeed, spell all the words correctly.  We're still using Spelling Wisdom for Sam and he and I both enjoy it (as much as one can enjoy Spelling, of course).

Back to Sadie. Again, I went to Sonlight to see what they recommended.  I needed a program that would go a little slower, provide more explanation of rules and some new ways of thinking about/doing spelling.  I decided to try All About Spelling.  I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by the actual program when it arrived.  The teacher's book was simple enough to follow but there were lots of rule cards to file, magnetic letters to find a board for, and clear, colored discs for who-knows-what.  I had to sit down and give it more thought than the other programs just to figure out how it worked, BUT BOY DOES IT WORK (for Sadie)!

We started back at Level 1 and Sadie (and I!) learned spelling rules I never knew existed which makes spelling seem less of a giant guessing game.  For example, how do you teach a child whether to use a "k" or "ck" when they hear the "k" sound at the end of a word?  Well, there is a rule for that.  If a short vowel sound is used before the "k" sound, you use "ck".  Now she knows and there is no floundering and guessing! It also teaches the student to spell by breaking down words into syllables (that's what those clear, colored discs were for) and has built in review of rules.  We are well into Level 2 at this point.  It takes a little extra time compared to the other programs but she's getting it.  She loves the magnetic letters and really does benefit from "building" words on the board as well as writing them.

So, who knows.  Maybe we've found the spelling programs we'll stick with from here on out.  Maybe as their needs change, we'll switch again.  Either way- we can do it.

Take that, spelling. Pin It


  1. Thanks for this. I never struggled with spelling, but both of my kids do. We have been using the Sequential Spelling this year. I am kind of disappointed in it, because my kids don't seem to retain the words they "learned" to spell during the classes. We have been really faithful in using it and are on lesson 110. I have been thinking I should try a different spelling curriculum, but was at a loss as to what to try. This give me some options.

  2. Isn't it incredible how many resources are available out there?? It can be overwhelming at times!! In my eight (coming to the end of our eighth year, and we are no where near *expert*) years of home educating, if there is one thing I have learned it's this ~ tweaking is necessary! :) What a blessing you are to your children. Enjoy these days...they are precious!!! Hugs, Camille

  3. It's such a journey, isn't it?:) I started all of mine out with ABeka's phonics program so I guess I took those rules for granted because we had them from the beginning. I also use Spelling Workout and Explode the Code. I like both of them very much however Explode the Code has had some questionable material intertwined in the material that teaches disrespect for parents and teachers and a haughty spirit. We will no longer be usinging these, so I appreciate your honest input of these other spelling programs. We will be celebrating 9 years and like you I can't believe how fast it's going!

  4. I am a horrible speller! I never did understand the 'Look it up in the dictionary' comment. I don't know how to spell it, how can I find it! My daughters are considering homeschooling their children, I'll pass on your spelling adventure.

    And with a twinkle in my eye, I think your fifth paragraph, last sentence, 'right' should be 'write.' Even though I can't spell, I was still the editor of my high school paper. :)

    1. Thank you, Kelley! Too bad there isn't a homophone check built into blogger, too:-).

  5. So interesting! You started with the same curriculum we did, and ended up using All About Spelling, which we also use! We really like it for our daughter. I use a spelling program through Institute for Excellence in Writing for my older boys. My absolute favorite is All About Spelling. It works!

  6. I'm a former high school English teacher and this is so fascinating to me! Love how you did your research. I know very few spelling rules (I'm more like Sam than Sadie), and I mostly taught my students how to double check their work with a dictionary. I always told them that some people are just better at spelling than others, but we all should know how to use a dictionary or another resource to get it right. Well, I like your approach and the clear way you laid out the programs.

  7. I'm strongly considering using Sonlight this coming year, thanks for the chance to "look over your shoulder" as you teach your kids! I'm wondering whether or not I should pay to have Sonlight assemble my teacher's guide or not. I'm not sure whether it would be a complicated process assembling it.What did you do? Heather

    1. I've always put mine together myself. It was easier than I thought. If you have about 20 minutes (or maybe less) you can do it. They provide instructions on putting it together and if you have any trouble with it you can always call them or email me and I'd be happy to "talk" you through it ( I'm excited for your family! We really love Sonlight:-).


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