Does anyone remember struggling to remember how to spell a word? The frustration as the fog descends and you feel it evade your grip, in the end settling on guessing, knowing it doesn’t look right. For some people this never really goes away; try as they might, spelling rules never really stick. English is a tricky language with its roots all over the world and I think we can all say we’ve had a wobbly moment – I’ve seen highly skilled English graduates and writers struggle with ‘onomatopoeia’ or ‘fuchsia’.
Sometimes, as parents, it can be hard to watch our children struggle. Why can’t they remember something that might be automatic and second nature to us in adulthood? They spelled that word brilliantly yesterday; how can they have forgotten already? Whether your child is dyslexic or dyspraxic or just finds spellings a little tricky to retain, hopefully there will be some ideas in here for you.
The first thing to remember is the importance of empathy and patience. I know it’s hard. My almost five year old zoomed along with his phonics at the beginning but is currently sailing merrily along what can only be described as a plateau. I found a video on my phone of him sounding out the word ‘cat’ a year ago. He still can’t identify the word straight away and has to sound it out every time. I have no idea why. Maybe he’s not confident enough yet, maybe he’s just genuinely forgotten, maybe he’s not developmentally ready. Sometimes, in the moment, I have to battle with unhelpful inner thoughts and must remind myself that we haven’t only done this word. We have looked at hundreds of other words and letters, begun writing practice and developed a host of other skills in other areas including maths, music and gymnastics. In the classroom, the child who has, once again, written ‘thier’ instead of ‘their’ despite successfully doing it yesterday might be exhausted after a long day, overwhelmed by homework or worrying about a maths problem they were stuck on earlier. There is a context for everything.
So, here are some strategies that you can use with your child, whether they’re educated at home or school, whatever their age. I have used these strategies with four year olds and thirteen year olds.
- Multisensory Spelling
Children learn in different ways and for many children simply looking at a word or saying it aloud just isn’t enough. Enter multisensory approaches!
Note: Some love messy play, some are horrified by getting their hands dirty, so play this one by ear and think about the child you’re working with!
– Fill a tray or plate with sand or salt and ask your child to write a word in it using a finger.
– Ask them to write some words on your back with a finger and see if you can guess the word! You can swap and write words on your child’s back too. There is a lot of research that suggests that human touch and contact is a great way to facilitate learning. If you have a group of siblings they can have lots of fun with this one.
– Use playdough, clay or pipe cleaners to form the words. They will initially need to make long, thin ‘sausages’ which they can then shape.
-Make words with magnetic letters or movable alphabet – I love the Montessori movable alphabet in the picture here.
– Play Hangman with a mini whiteboard, chalkboard or piece of paper.
– Ask your child (or you can type it for them) to write out each word twice on a small card or post it note and play Memory pairs. This is a good one for more visual learners.
– Try saying the word out loud or spelling aloud onto an audio recording and playing it back.
– If you have a group or a couple of siblings, grab a ball and take it in turns to throw the ball to each other in a random order. Each time you receive the ball you need to say the next letter.
- Writing and Drawing
– Ask your child to write each word in a sentence. They can make up silly sentences to amuse them..
– Create a memorable mnemonic with your child – a word beginning with each letter. A classic is the trick to remember how to spell ‘BECAUSE” (Big Elephants Can Always Upset Small Elephants). It helps if there is a clear relationship between the words and makes grammatical sense as that makes it more memorable. You can also draw little sketches to help remember the mnemonic.
- Outdoor Learning
I’m a big fan of this one! Get outdoors to your garden, local park or woodland. Take a little picnic and have fun.
– Find similarly sized and shaped sticks, collect them all together and use them to create a word. You can also do this with flowers, leaves or pine cones.
– Use a stick or your finger to write words in the dirt.
I hope these strategies are helpful, have fun learning with your child and please do feel free to post any images of your fantastic spelling activities on Instagram or Facebook and tag The Imagination Shed.