2e Tuesday::Look Ma! No Spelling Lessons!

I have the advantage, being an unschooler, of trying radical things that the rest of the public wouldn’t dream of doing. Like, not having any spelling lessons in our day. At all. Anyone who has spent time with their child working on endless spelling tests, spelling workbooks, spelling drills, and countless spelling induced temper tantrums has fantasized about doing just that. Spelling curriculum is the bane of many school kids and parents existence. However, spelling is one of the foundations of the school system. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic…and spelling is a huge part of writing.

It’s such a big part of writing that it causes panic attacks to think about not having spelling as a part of the school day. Even when we left public school and homeschooled, I found spelling curriculum so I could import the spelling test pain into our lives every day. No one was forcing me to, it was in my control, and I bought in to the idea that if we don’t make our kids write random words down 10 times a day for a week, then they won’t ever learn to spell. And then they won’t write coherently. And then they won’t give a good application to colleges, which will lead to them not getting into school, which means unemployment, which means a horrible life full of grief and misery.

I, actually, am a fantastic speller. I found proof in my basement of doom that in 5th grade, I was at a high school spelling level. I have, like, a photographic memory for words. Which is weird because otherwise, my mind is a sieve. Things come in and flow out almost instantaneously, which accounts for my childlike glee. I feel like I see things for the first time no matter how often I’ve heard or read or seen it. Except words. They stick in there like they have velcro on the back of them. I’m like a wordy Rainman!

To me, every spelling mistake that I come across in my day leaps out at me like a scream. I previously supposed that spelling errors were the sign of a weak mind. Because spelling was so easy for me, I figured that it was easy for everyone…so how lazy could you be to not spell something when you could just see it in your mind.

Well, along came Naturalist. And to put it clearly I’ll do an analogy… Naturalist :: spelling : Me :: staying organized. It was confusing because I knew she didn’t have a weak mind, but she also couldn’t spell. Hell, she couldn’t even use vowels in her words. And this was in 3rd grade.

We discovered that Dyslexia had a lot to do with her spelling mistakes, so for a while when we homeschooled I thought that meant that I just had to make her practice and drill even harder. This was wrong. Let me repeat, THIS WAS WRONG. As wrong as suggesting that a person in a wheelchair just needs to get out of the wheelchair and try walking more often.

If you have a kid with either a learning difference like Dyslexia or is extremely right brained, let go of the spelling lists. I only say that because I’ve done just that, and in 2 years I’ve seen a remarkable difference (for the better!) in everyone’s spelling. Here’s what we do, and why it works:

1. Encourage passion and interest! For Naturalist, this interest was on birds and wolves. Any interest will lead into some form of expression. For her, she would write novels, biographies, and comics about birds and wolves.

2. Encourage internet use! There are ways to safely protect you and your child from negative scary internet-y things, so take those steps and use it. Naturalist would use the internet to search on birds and wolves to eventually find the words that she needed to use in her chosen forms of expressions. Because it was important to her, she would remember the spellings much easier.

3. Encourage more internet use! Naturalist is on a variety of chat rooms and forums like Spore, Indigo Forum, Dyscalculia Forum, Deviant Art, etc. Again, use caution and common sense and discuss proper internet safety measures with your kids, and then let them go. Using words to communicate to other people is a huge incentive to write correctly. And on those forums, usually someone else will correct the spelling in a reply, and this provides a concrete example to follow. It’s important to get ideas across, so these corrections are remembered much easier.

4. Encourage computer use. Spell check on the computer is fabulous!

5. Allow them to ask you how to spell words without answering back, “Look it up!”. Don’t do it. Just spell the word, as many times as they ask, as much as you can.

6. Trust that your kids want to be competent spellers and will find a way to do so when left to their own passions. Really trust this. Especially with a kid with LD who also is gifted who also is right brained. For instance, Naturalist cannot use a dictionary. It’s so hard for her. But this is what she does: She reads books. She remembers words on a page that she doesn’t know how to spell. Later, when she’s writing or drawing or needs to use that word, she remembers what page she saw it on and goes to that specific book to copy the word down properly. So, to get it straight, in her mind it’s easier to remember every word on a page of every book she’s ever read than to use a dictionary. It boggles the mind, does it not? But that’s how she rolls. Not being forced to “do” spelling, she’s come up with a way to spell words properly. Not for a grade, not for a test, not for a teacher, but because she just WANTS TO. She wants to take control of her dyslexia and prove that she can do things in spite of it. She wants people to understand her. She doesn’t like the slow spell check process of having to stop and figure a word out all the time, so she remembers better.

7. Get Scribblenauts!!!! For a visual, creative, right brained thinker, this game is the bees knees, and an amazing spelling facilitator. Basically, what you write down becomes part of the game, so spelling is important and words are introduced that they just remember because they need to use it.

Based around 2D side-scrolling action and word play, the premise of Scribblenauts is simple; quite literally, anything you write, you can use and reuse in the game. Players use the DS’ touch-screen and the in-game notepad/keyboard to help their character, Maxwell, as he moves throughout 220 increasingly difficult levels on his never-ending quest for the star-like “Starites.”

Attaining them requires Maxwell to solve spatially oriented puzzles. To do this players describe objects via the notepad/keyboard, which in turn appear on the game screen and facilitate the starite making its way to Maxwell. There are literally thousands of items in the game, both utilitarian like ladders, ropes, cars and buses, to the outlandish items, such as invisibility cloaks, pirates and black holes.

The game is all about experimentation, imagination and endless replay value as players open their minds to the nearly limitless possibilities that are sure to make Scribblenauts unlike any side-scrolling platformer they have ever played.

So, that’s our spelling suggestions. My kids haven’t done a spelling lesson in almost 3 years, and they’re better spellers because of it. Try it, you’ll see!


26 Responses

  1. I love this. I am so like you, always wondering why it is so hard for people to just spell things right. My husband thinks it would be so great to have my memory, so he could watch a movie for the fifith time like it was the first. 🙂

    • oh yes, movies are always a treat, no matter how often I’ve seen them. I could watch Fantastic Mr. Fox every day and still be delighted over and over, LOL.

  2. That sounds so freaking awesome! I LOVE this advice!! ;D Cheers me dears! ;D

  3. ah yes. some truly great ideas.

    I decided that I would spell things the way I wanted to. I created many words. some are now used in the English language as normal.

    worrying about spelling is like worrying about the technical details.

    in screenwriting we say “content over form”

    It’s the story that matters, that’s what engages people and inspires people.

    But ya auto spell-check in Internet browsers like Google Chrome, just rock.

    • ‘content over form’…why don’t they teach that in elementary/middle school? An army of little screenwriters taking over the high schools! I’m all about that. Really, who cares if your spelling/punctuation are perfect if you’ve lost the passion or interest to write or tell a story?!

  4. Oh, that game looks SO cool! My boys have been back on a DS kick this week, so perfect timing. 🙂

    The only spelling tests my kids have ever experienced were done when they were bored outside on the swingset with their homeschooled friend from across the street. They decided to quiz each other on spelling. LOL.

    I’m a natural speller, and my second son seems to be, but my oldest struggles a bit. I think more because of learning to read using context more than phonics, he just never picked up on all the many, many rules. My second son asked for EVERY single rule as we read along. So, I’m actually going to get a spelling curriculum (doh!) called All About Spelling, which uses spelling “manipulatives” and goes through all the rules one by one — and he can refer to it as he likes.

    P.S. It never made any sense to me either to use a dictionary for spelling. I look up words to know their meaning! If I can’t spell the word, how can I find it in the dictionary? LOL.

    • Scribblenauts…best DS game ever!!!

      • Scribblenauts is a fantastic game.

        My son was an early reader and I assumed he’d be an early speller, too. Not so. He has an amazing memory for so many things, he can identify misspelled words on a page, but to put a word on a page himself is a different matter. However, he rocks on Scribblenauts… the fact that the player types in the word and then is given a list of close matches is a great technique. Like spellcheck, I suppose, but no assumptions that what has been typed is what was actually meant.

        Great post. (BTW, some teachers do emphasis content over form, but many don’t…. form should be the very last thing a writer worries about – that’s why there are editors in the “real” world.)

  5. OH! And one more thing — I have the same experience with not remembering things that aren’t words! What is that about?!

  6. This is SO timely for me. Thank you for taking the time to write this. My son is 10 and not writing or spelling much. He’s a great reader though, despite the dyslexia. You’d think that the ability to read words would translate into being able to spell them too, but that hasn’t been the case for us.

    I’m a spelling/grammar Nazi too! 🙂 I probably shouldn’t be. How would I like it if the Math Police came knocking at my door?! (Yikes!)

    • give him time. It’ll all fall into place–he just needs his own space to work it out 🙂

  7. Thanks Tiff! This is a great post.
    Fionna is always running around the house gathering up books or DVD’s to see how to spell something. Usually so she can make a book, sign or look up a topic on the computer. Such a wonderful way to learn to spell!
    LOL about the Math Police… so true!

    • I love that ‘word search’! Sassy has made up her own book of words–all the words she thinks are cool 🙂

  8. We LOVE Scribblenauts!! There have been long marathon sessions playing this game and juicy brain building going on at the same time 🙂

    We don’t “do” spelling here either. I figure the best way to learn to spell and to write is to read. So we do!

  9. I’ve learnt English as a second language since I was 9 years old, so has my son. Never done any spelling! We’ve learnt to write English just by reading and writing it. Is there any other way to do it? 🙂

    • well, there are lots of programs out there that have the effect of making spelling as tedious as possible!

  10. I’m so thankful for unschooling too! I’ve noticed the same thing with Jacob…spelling improving by just exploring his interests.

    Hannah, also dyslexic, is really struggling learning how to read. Any advice? Just support her and give her time?

  11. Love it! My boys, without provocation, ask me to spell words approximately 12,981 times a day. I don’t need to ‘teach’ them…they go online, google things, ask me (12,981 times a day) and read. And read. And read. 🙂

    • another reason it’s pretty exhausting being an unschooling mom, lol. All the 20349802934808923480 times a day of things 😉

  12. Yeah! You are so right! 😀

  13. I can totally relate to your post. I am a natural speller but cannot remember dates or just about anything else. My husband is a very creative writer but cannot spell at all. He is always asking me how to spell stuff. I have never once asked him to look it up and I would never do that to my children either. My daughter is 19 and I always thought she would spell like my husband because they spell things the way they sound. But without ever having a spelling lesson in her life, she spells like me now and I do not even know when the change took place. She does a lot of writing on her own, on facebook, in her journals, and texting so I guess she just picked it up from there. She also used spell check all the time. Now she hardly ever has to. I would much rather see them writing creatively than have all the spelling, punctuation, and grammar down perfectly. That is what editors are for. By the way, I love your blog.

    • Naturalist used to average one correctly spelled word per sentence. It really pained me to see! But now she averages one misspelled word per sentence…something clicked. I agree, if left to their own devices and allowed to write without all the corrections, eventually they pick up on their own way to spell words correctly.

      And, thanks for the blog love! 🙂

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