1. Phonetic Spelling

We want to encourage young children to feel free to sound out words as best they can and to write those sounds down.  Then they feel empowered to write what they want to say. They feel confident enough to write and practice their letter-sounds. They don’t have to wait for someone to tell them the correct spelling. They think of themselves as writers, as well as readers! That’s one of the reasons why the children’s writing illustrated on this site has some misspellings.

In the earliest stages, resist correcting your child’s spelling unless he asks, for example, is it a “c” or a “k?” Asking him to read it back to you will help him notice if he can’t figure out a word and you can tell him enough so he can read it – or you can. One or two corrections may be enough before your child becomes discouraged or dependent on your for spelling.

Personally, I love this stage of phonetic spelling when children write what they hear. For example, Wns a pon a tim is typical for “Once upon a time.”  When I look at a child’s writing, I see what he’s learned so far and what he’s ready to learn next, Here are a few examples. I like the spelling of “leprechaun” because it’s exactly as it sounds.

Generally, children first learn to sing the alphabet, and then learn the letters and their sounds. Then, in order to read, they start blending the sounds into simple three letter words. There’s a general sequence for learning to read, write and spell, but many things are being assimilated at the same time.  Often what you see as your child learns is just the tip of the iceberg, while so much is being integrated: phonics and spelling patterns and much more about how language works. In this sequence short vowels are learned before long vowels (which say their own name), except for most frequently used “sight” words which are memorized early, such as “the.”

Short Vowels

Learning the short vowel sounds is harder than learning the rest of the alphabet (the consonants) because the vowels are not as easily distinguished from each other.

Rhyming “flip books” are easy to make with the last long page sticking out and a stack of short ones on top of it. Each of the pages combine with the ending to make a different word. You can make these books with your child who may choose to draw illustrations with the words.

“Blend Friends”

After they’ve learned to read three letter words with short vowels (cat, dog, etc.), children learn what I call the “blend friends.” Blend friends are two consonants that combine to make a different sound of their own. The first ones I teach my students because they’re used so often are th, wh, ch, and sh. I use the chart below to help the children remember the sounds of these blend friends.

You can use a “Blends BINGO” game like this, including various consonants before  r, l, p, t, m, n, etc. t need illustrations. Then have your child find the blends for words you give her, such as whale, black, cry, cheese, etc.

After children have learned “th,” they can write write “brthda” with “th” in the middle of the word, instead of “brfda,” as many of them do.

Notice that you don’t hear the “i” before the “r” in birthday or the “y” after the “a,” but you can still figure out what the word is. In ancient times, there were no vowels in the alphabet.

Step by step, children start filling in more of the missing letters as they learn the spelling patterns and rules  – and many exceptions to the rules. Along the way, they learn to put spaces between words, capitalize the first word in a sentence and use punctuation at the end of a sentence.

This includes rules for spelling like this:

Double the last consonant (“g” in biggest) after a short vowel –  before adding an ending (suffix) that begins with a vowel. This is also true in the middle of a word like “rabbits.”

When children are learning a rule, sometimes they overdo it, applying the rules when it’s not needed as in this example.

Making “Fixes” (Self-Editing)

As early as possible, have your child read back to you what he wrote. This helps him practice reading skills along with his writing – and starts his self-editing. This is a very important practice! I can’t say this enough: always have your child read back to you what he wrote. Children often catch some of their mistakes or decide to change what they want to say so that it’s more effective. When one of my students edits his own writing, I tell him, “That’s what a good writer does. He fixes mistakes and makes his writing clear.” The level of editing will depend upon your child’s age and ability, and whether it will be finished work or “published” in the classroom.

In the early stages, “b” and “d” are often confused. If your child continues to confuse and reverse these and other letters often, as well as mixing up letter order beyond second grade, he may have a visual and auditory processing challenge. This used to be called dyslexia, which simply means poor reader.  If you have a concern about your child’s reading as well as his writing, talk to your child’s teacher.  

Sometimes you can figure out what your child’s confusion is. The confusion of letter order in this example (through) may be caused by the similar words, “though” and “thought.”  When children learn cursive, usually starting in third grade, this adds another challenge to their writing and spelling.

This spelling, “rymes,” is very close to being correct, only missing the silent “h.”

This next example, “disappeared,” shows that the writer has made his best guess of “er” for “ear” and doesn’t know yet the rule about double consonants “pp” before a vowel. You can see how complex our spelling is – and how phonetic spelling usually comes close enough for being able to read the word.  If editing, this is an opportunity to teach something (the spelling of “ear”) if your child is ready for it – or just to tell him the spelling.

By second grade, students often write longer stories and learn to edit with their teacher’s support.  However, some writing doesn’t need to be edited much or at all, for example, if it’s your child’s own journal. You can decide for yourself how much editing your child can tolerate before he gets frustrated so that it interferes with his writing. But if it’s a good moment for it, you can remind your child of the spelling pattern or rule that applies to a particular word.

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