Thoughtful Thursday Week 9 – Spelling Matters

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We finished our spelling curriculum for the year and I am pretty sure we will start on the next level, even though it is marketed to second graders. (My son is still in first grade.) It’s not that I want to rush him through knowledge. It’s just that this curriculum is rather basic and several experienced homeschoolers consider that the next levels can be easily done in earlier grades.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 9 Spelling Matters

For spelling, we decided to go with Spelling Workout, one of the recommendations from The Well-Trained Mind. At first, I thought this curriculum had three strikes against itself:

1. It is secular. Of course, spelling cannot be Christian or secular. I am referring to the texts used to teach spelling – very neutral and politically correct. Sometimes it is nice to have passages from the Bible or Christian authors or, at the very least, character-based stories to put in front of your children as you deal with grammar, punctuation and spelling, don’t you think?

2. It is for classroom use. As such, it makes frequent references to school bus rides, lunches in the cafeteria, and other public school concepts my homeschooled children have no reference to.

3. It encourages letter formation in manuscript, not cursive, and we do cursive only.

But I looked around and did not find any good alternatives. I fell completely out of love with Spell to Write and Read. The Teacher’s Manual is completely chaotic. I was going in circles trying to see how to go past the first 12 steps (which we used successfully). All About Spelling seems overpriced, over-hyped, and similar to Spell to Write and Read (minus the mystifying hand signals). Spelling Power starts at age eight and my son is still seven. What’s a girl to do?

I tried Spelling Workout. After all, Susan Wise Bauer is always right, right? Right. I know, I know, nobody is always right, but I am a big fan and the lady has not done anything wrong so far in my book.  Continue reading »

For cursive, I told my son he would have to write the letters the way we learned them, in cursive. No protest. Why should he? And when he did try to form a manuscript letter, I reminded him that manuscript letters are what we see in books, but we write cursive letters, or “handwritten” letters.

When I learned how to write, my first grade teacher simply had us chant as she was pointing at letters on the black board: “Cursive capital A, cursive lowercase a, manuscript capital A, manuscript lowercase a.” We learned the differences and we accepted that humans write “handwritten” words, also knows as cursive. Books come with manuscript letters.

It’s a big debate nowadays but I don’t see why. Manuscript letters are just another way to dumb down curriculum in this technological age. Research on the brain shows that cursive actually helps make connections better than manuscript, dyslexia is kept at bay, spelling makes more sense, words are kept together, and are easier to read etc etc etc. As far as I am concerned, there are lots of advantages to cursive handwriting and I will stick to it with my second child, as well.

It took my son less than a year to learn all the alphabet in cursive. He is now able to write words and he is working on sentences, too. This spelling curriculum fit right in and it actually doubled up as handwriting practice. He got enthusiastic about how quickly he could finish a chapter, somewhere in the middle of the book. He was excited to do the writing exercises at the very end of the chapter and asked for a separate sheet of paper to write more, because they really don’t give you much space.

While working through this curriculum, we found a recipe for trail mix and my son asked to make it. He was proud of his trail mix and shared it with his sister. A few weeks later, he asked to make it again and I obliged by providing the ingredients for him. Also in Spelling Workout we found a suggestion for making your own scrapbook. Again, my son got inspired and asked for supplies. We found some old cardboard I had been collecting (apparently, for this moment) and we added some cereal boxes, which we cut up to size. We punched holes and ran some yarn through. He even made a smaller one for his little sister.

Boy showing off one of the pages inside his handmade scrapbook.

My son showing off one of the pages inside his handmade scrapbook.

The only thing I have against this curriculum is that the pages are very thin. They probably saved a bundle in paper, but at the expense of quality. My son uses a pencil and erases now and then, of course. The pages don’t exactly tear, but it certainly looks like they might any minute.

I shall return once we finish the next level, to give you an update on our spelling matters.


Spell to Write and Read

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As I researched spelling curricula, I bumped into Spell to Write and Read. It was love at first sight.

From what I can tell, my children like it already, too. You see, for preschoolers or non-readers, Spell to Write and Read (SWR) offers a variety of games to develop phonemic awareness – the key to good spelling and reading skills.

On pages 20-22 of the Teacher’s Manual, Wanda Sanseri, the author, offers several games to play with preschoolers. I have already done some of these at random times of the day. They don’t even know they are learning because I took the work out of it by saying, “Let’s play a game.”

One such example is “Run around the clock,” an exercise used to teach the directional orientation needed for writing. I made 12 3×5 cards with numbers 1-12, as suggested, and placed them on the floor of our living room like the face of a clock. I asked the kids to stand at number 12 and then I gave them directions: “Run to 6”, or “Walk to 3” etc. They loved it. They asked to switch with me and they gave me commands, too. I walked or ran as they gave me my marching orders, no pun intended.

When I got a chance, after they slowed down their excited comments, I told them: “This direction is called clockwise because this is how the clock hands move. When we learn to write though, we will move in a funny direction called counterclockwise”. I said that several times. They blinked and listened.

Most of what I do with them now is quick and painless, fit for their attention span. I just drop concepts into their receptive minds and let it go. When they hear about it again, it will sound familiar. Hopefully.

But the greatest moment for me was when my son took the game one step further. After playing it for a few minutes, he ran to the table, grabbed a stack of construction paper and several markers and made 12 different drawings which he placed next to each number card. He drew several types of trucks, a teddybear, a ship, a volcano, an ambulance, a map… you get the idea. Things a 5-year-old would draw. Then, he asked me to go to the truck and run to the map. Or walk from the map to the teddybear.

He was having so much fun, he asked me not to put the clock away overnight. He wanted to play some more the next day.

Another SWR game we play (sometimes even in the car) is vowelizing words. I was trying to teach them to count the syllables in a word, but found that they started prolonging vowels and so they would end up with extra claps and extra syllables.

So he said “CAT!” and clapped once. He knew that was one syllable. Then, he said “CA-A-A-AT” and the result was confusion.

His younger sister started imitating him, as she does in everything. From my reaction, she realized she would go down the wrong path. She went back to her clapping the word and not exaggerating the vowels. She takes her learning seriously, even though everything else in life is a game for her. She is my happy-go-lucky child, but she shows a lot of maturity when it comes to learning. Meanwhile, my son got stuck.

My strategy was to get him to hum the word (as suggested on page 21 of the red SWR Teacher’s Manual). That way, he could not go wrong. I asked him to say “CAT” with his mouth closed tightly. He went, “Hum!” That was it. One syllable. Once I showed him that, I could tell he was relieved he had a tool.

This spelling curriculum, like many others, is all about giving children tools. Wish me luck as I delve into it more and more.

What about you? Have you looked at Spell to Write and Read? Have you attended any of their training seminars? Have you used it in your homeschool? Why? Why not?