Kids Can’t Spell?


Ammon shows off a big beet he grew

It is an all-too-common problem. Kids can’t spell, teenagers can’t spell, even many adults can’t spell. Thank goodness for spell-check on the computer. It has helped the problem enormously!

Learning to write is pretty important, as we use if daily in our communication. Nothing blows “lookin’ smart” faster than misspelling a common word. It’s like saying “ain’t”—only on paper!

Spelling the English language is very tricky! Just consider the ee sound. There are eight ways to spell the ee sound: chief, seat, beet, receive, key, he, Judy, ski. Now you can see why English is a bear to spell.

Should you teach your children all those long spelling rules? Generally, I say no. By the time a person can understand those detailed rules, they are usually old enough to have figured out how to spell. Who can remember or make sense of such a rule as this: “Double the final consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel if the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and the word ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel”!  Not me!

image-1There are some rules that I teach when a child is good and ready (meaning that he is regularly misspelling these words in his own writing and could remember and benefit from a rule to go by). Teaching commonly misspelled words will help your writing tremendously, and many are simple to remember with memory clues.

Some very common spelling mistakes (below) can each be learned in 5 minutes. They are worth memorizing.  I make a flashcard with the word on the front and the clues on the back.  I read the clue to my child, then expose the front of the card when he has spelled the word, so he can self-correct. It doesn’t take long until these are mastered.

To, Two, Too

Two is the number 2, that’s easy enough. So eliminate that one by learning it first!

Too has two o’s; it has more than enough, which is the meaning of the word too, as in too much fun, too many cookies, etc. Too means “also,” too!

To is the word that we see most commonly. It only has one o, and it means “in the direction of,” as in “to the store,” we also use it with verbs, such as “to dance.”

It is, It’s, Who’s, Whose

It’s and who’s are contractions of the words it is and who is .

It is = it’s

Who is = who’s

The apostrophe shows that some letters have been squeezed out by the contraction. (That’s my way of explaining it to my kids. They have been through enough pregnancies with me to know what a contraction is!)

Its and whose show ownership. Its paws, for example, when talking about your cat. These words don’t need an apostrophe any more than the word his, which also shows ownership. Ask yourself, “Whose coat? Who’s there?” If you can separate the words into who is, then you want the word with the apostrophe (who’s).

Watch Out for the Schwa!

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 5.59.30 PMWhat is a schwa? That is the upside down and backward “e” that you see in dictionary spellings. This is the symbol for the uh sound you hear when you say the word A-mer-i-ca. A schwa comes about in a language simply because people talk fast and get sloppy about articulating every syllable and vowel sound. Usually we hear the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) turn into a schwa on the unaccented syllable. This is okay for reading because you can quickly figure out that the word has a softened to a shwa sound in such words as America, above, other, etc. But it makes spelling a nightmare! Which letter should you use when all you hear is uh? Most people will use a u since it makes an uh sound. But that guess is usually wrong.

I teach my children to spell words with schwas by pronouncing them clearly and phonetically. Instead of saying other, I enunciate clearly: “AW-ther.” Become is pronounced “bee-cAWm.” They learn to spell the exaggerated pronunciation and can remember it even when the word is spoken with the schwa.

Memory tricks are also a great way to help children remember spelling. I was taught to spell together by remembering to get her so we can be together. I still remember that clue. Tomorrow can be confusing . . . how many m’s? You won’t misspell it once you remember that it means to (or on the) morrow. I still say aloud NECK-e-sary when I want to spell necessary. The neck helps me remember that there is a c in it, even though it doesn’t sound like it.

Keep at it, they’ll get it! (So will we moms.)


May I recommend:

Natural Speller versus Has-to-be-Taught

Writing in My Homeschool

Better Spelling in 30 Minutes a Day

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