I tried to teach my kids how to spell. I really did. Somehow, after I’d given up the books, lists and tests that our homeschool was supposed to require, they all turned out to be excellent spellers.
When our oldest daughter was five, I ordered a spelling workbook because it was supposedly necessary. Renee did the posttest at the end of the text and went back to her Nancy Drew novel. A few years later, I tried a sixth grade book with the same results. Renee was a very early reader who loved words. Must have been a rare “spelling gene”, I thought.
Claire, likewise, read early and often, and learned to spell by reading and writing, with no real input from me or from the textbook industry. The few times that we tried using spelling workbooks made her hide under the bed.
Then came Evan, who was more inclined to be outside in a tree than to be reading. He read well, but not as early or as often as his sisters. He had talents in “unbuilding” and technology, though. Evan could barely spell at much more than a primer level until he discovered the Internet at age eight. Suddenly, the world was waiting to hear from him. He emailed and posted and spelled…nearly flawlessly.
There was the secret! If a child has been exposed to books, then he or she would probably learn to spell without needing to be drilled and filled with spelling rules and exceptions. Even Spellcheck proved to be a help, since a child who used it to find the correct spelling of a word would usually remember how to spell it next time.
Ken and Neal followed Evan’s storyline to spelling proficiency, as did Alanna, who added her own twists. At age six, Alanna loved to type. She would ask how to spell words, and type them quite happily. She loved basic crossword puzzles and other simple word games. Still, this didn’t cross over into her writing until she began to author three hundred page novels when she was ten. The world might not read her fiction for a few years yet, but her spelling has gone from mildly awful to excellent in a very short time.
All because she has something to say and someone to say it to.
Your mileage may vary, of course. There are some people who aren’t wired for spelling. They may be bright, even brilliant, but their processors for spelling must be taken up with other duties. For those kids, a few rounds with a spelling rule book might be just the thing. But years of spelling drills may waste valuable time that could be used to learn things that might be more valuable and less frustrating. It will also take less time for them to learn spelling rules if they are taught all together at a later age rather than strung out over many years, beginning at a time when the child’s mind is on less technical issues.
This doesn’t make textbook publishers happy, but that’s fine. It made my kids very happy. And it made them very good spellers.