When I was in grade school, teachers took spelling very seriously. Vocabulary and spelling tests were a weekly event. Not much has changed. Your children are still being tested on their ability to spell and learn and apply new words correctly in their writing.
Your first grader comes home from school and shows you, very proudly, a story that he has written in class. It is ripe with misspellings, but logically written. You can follow the story from beginning to end. So, what’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing at all.
“Ther ouns was two flawrs. Oun was pink and the othr was prpul. Thae did not like ech athr becuse thae whr difrint culrs. Oun day thae had a fite.”
In my day, there would have been red ink all over it, correcting all errors. Today, educators understand this as invented or inventive spelling- words written according to the way they sound. Many teachers now encourage it in the early grades.They have not given up on teaching spelling. Their understanding about how children learn has shifted.
When children create their own spellings for words they do not know how to spell correctly, they’re using invented spelling. They use what they know about letters, sounds and spelling patterns to spell the word as best as they can.
Written in standard spelling, the above first grader’s story would say:
“There once was two flowers. One was pink and the other was purple. They did not like each other because they were different colors. One day they had a fight.”
Invented spelling is a part of a developmental process, and thus the writing tells a lot about what the child has and has not learned about spelling in English. For example, your 1st grader has learned to master some irregular, but often used words like ‘was’, ‘day’ and ‘two’. However, work is still needed on ‘were’, ‘there’ and ‘they’. And so forth.
Spelling was considered to be mainly a process of memorization of words. Experts now believe it is part of a process in which children acquire certain ideas or theories as they are exposed to the standard spelling.
Visual memory, seeing what words should look like in your mind, remains an important part of spelling. It is best developed by studying word patterns and seeing and using them in reading and writing. Not by memorizing unrelated lists of words.
Children learn about standard spelling by reading, studying words and word patterns in school, attempting to spell words on their own, and editing their attempts.
Invented spelling allows children to communicate in writing long before they are ready to spell each word correctly. Another benefit is that children can express their ideas quickly and smoothly in a first draft, without being bogged down by trying to spell each word correctly. Invented spelling also helps children progress toward standard spelling.
Sounding out words and predicting how they will be spelled reinforces students’ understanding of the connection between letters and sounds, and lets them experiment with the spelling patterns they are learning. As they edit their writing and make a final draft, students get additional practice with the correct forms of words.
As children learn to spell and write, children also undergo a process of learning to speak. Parents rarely forbid their child from speaking until he can pronounce each word correctly. Instead, parents encourage early speech and reinforce correct pronunciations. Do the same with early writing-encourage your children to write often and be accepting of their attempts.
As your child learns more about the theory behind spelling and writing, their skills will improve and transfer into their own abilities to communicate via standard English.
Read, read, read and write, write, write! Seeing and using words frequently is the best way to improve spelling. Help him sound out words and tell him how to spell them correctly when he needs to know. As he writes the words correctly, he is learning them.
Find out if a particular spelling curriculum is used at school and ask the teacher how you can support your child in spelling. Find opportunities to talk about words with your children. For example, if your child uses the word “hymn,” you can talk about what it means and how it is spelled. You can also point out how it is different from the word “him.” It is important to get your child thinking about words and spelling.
My children were reading at age three. Instead of discouraging incorrectly identified or mispronounced words, my emphasis was placed on contextual cues-general skills and the message being conveyed. Before they were challenged spellers, they became readers. The process was more intricate than stated, but they were readers long before entering kindergarten.
Build upon what your child knows already. It tells you where further work is needed. Keep reading, writing, spelling, talking to and with your child.
In the early stages of learning to read and write, the most basic, existing skills will prevail. The challenges we continue to present, will manifest in new levels of understanding. Ultimately, your child becomes a better reader, writer and speller.
So, who cares that a word was incorrectly spelled or pronounced by a first grade learner. The greater emphasis should be on what he gets right. Focus on what your child does understand about English language rules. With continued encouragement and new information, your child will achieve reading, writing and spelling mastery. For now, inventive spelling is just fine. “Cn u rd ths?”