As a parent, you play an essential role in helping your child believe in her academic abilities, especially with writing. Though your child may ask for help with spelling on a daily basis, she actually knows more than she thinks she knows. Learning to spell is similar to learning balance by falling off a bike. From an early age, kids must stumble and explore letters and sounds and be free to “get it wrong” in order to experience the pleasure of getting her thoughts and ideas onto paper. When a child is encouraged to take risks and spell independently, she feels more confidence and flow with her writing.

That said, it’s tough to watch your child struggle to get it right! So, when do you stand back and when do you rush in to help? Here are some common pitfalls for beginning writers, with tips and fun games for working with them at home:

Phonetic “Invented” Spelling

You may see a kindergartener draw scribbles on a paper during imaginative play; “I am a waiter taking orders!” This is a sign that the child is interested in writing and she is mimicking what she sees adults doing. This type of experimentation with the written word should be encouraged, despite the resulting mistakes. For example, a first grader may write “Fn sF i Lk” for “fun stuff I like”. Don’t try to sound it out yourself, as you probably won’t translate accurately. Instead, ask your child to read her writing to you. Here are some encouraging responses to use with your child when she shows you her writing:

  • You’re writing!
  • You should be proud of yourself.
  • What happened next?
  • Show me what else can you write!

Getting it Down on Paper

Kids learn how to spell at first by getting squiggly marks, letters, pictures and eventually thoughts down on paper. They may transpose C/K, G/J, Q/P, reverse letters, write vertically or left to right, forget to use spaces between words, combine upper and lowercase and make many other mistakes. This is all a natural part of the learning process. It’s okay to use proactive language to forward that learning. Here are some helpful questions to ask your child:

  • What letters make the “sh” sound?
  • What is the first sound you hear in apple?
  • What letter do you hear at the end of sun?
  • What vowel makes the “u” sound?

A Mini Spelling Lesson

After spelling on her own, your child might ask, “Did I get it right?” Some positive responses include:

  • “Yes, that is kid spelling. You got it!”
  • “Let’s look this up in the dictionary together,” or “Let’s spell it together.”
  • Draw a line down the center of a paper and have your child write her best guess on the left. Then you may write the conventional spelling on the right side in neat lowercase print. Ask: “What is the same about our words? What is different?”
  • Ask your child to read the word out loud to you.

Sight Words

Around second grade, conventional spelling becomes more important and spelling tests often start in schools. There are many fun ways to practice sight words. At the end of the day, kids do need to recognize, spell, and read these words automatically, one grade level at a time. Please refer to this list of grade-specific sight words. Here are some games to make sight word practice fun!

Spelling Games

Sight Word Hopscotch Make a simple hopscotch game outside with chalk or inside with masking tape. Make sight word index cards. When a player draws a card from the box, he reads it and uses it in a sentence (with adult help if necessary). Spell the word while hopping on one foot through the squares. Always keep some words your child has mastered in the box and add only a few new words at a time.

Sight Word Search Draw a blank word search of one inch squares approximately 8 squares by 6 squares, with blank space at the bottom for the word list. Give your child a sight word list and have him circle five words. At first, show him how to write the words in the blank word search squares one letter at a time across, down or diagonally. After inserting each word, write that word in the blank space below. ;Fill in the remaining squares with any random letters a-z. Now find someone else to “Solve My Word Search!”

Sight Word Sort Enlarge the font and cut the sight word list into word cards. Have your child sort the words by first letter. Read them together simultaneously or “repeat after me” with the child pointing as you take turns leading. Now try sorting by number of letters and read the words again. Other sorts include: last letter, same vowels, words I can rhyme with, etc. Your child will think of other ways too. Store in a clear sealable bag.

Remember, kids want to spell it right and they want your approval, but it is more important that they feel successful and love to write. So, have fun!