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7 Ways to Teach Your Child to SPELL

Of course, before beginning to actually spell words, acquiring good fine motor skills is necessary for the ability to hold and manipulate a pencil, crayon or marker. Having fun scribbling, drawing, painting, and any other activity that provides practice in manipulating a writing/drawing tool should be encouraged. Paper with and without lines should be available so your toddler can practice writing and drawing within a confined space, attempting to form letters from left to right on lines. You will be surprised, though, at how quickly she will begin “spelling” words.

Studies have shown that the best predictors of success in learning to spell are phonological awareness and print knowledge This means that in order for parents and caregivers to support spelling development, they need to talk about words as they read to their babies and toddlers, and to demonstrate what reading is all about. Making lists, texting friends and family, and writing notes about things to remember will all motivate your child to try to do the same.

mother with child

Parents and teachers of young children can encourage them to spell words the way they sound in order for the child to be able to pair writing with speaking: if she can say it, she can write it. This type of early spelling is often referred to as “invented spelling.” (see The 7 Steps of Learning to Spell) Of course, you wouldn’t expect your child to spell many words correctly as a preschooler, but you can begin to teach some fundamentals of spelling with some easy tricks to give your child a head start.

  1. Demonstrate how to form letters and have your child imitate your motions. Describe what you are doing: “A ‘B’ starts up here, then comes down. Then we make a loop from the top, into the center, and another loop to the bottom.” This is much better than just using dot-to-dot letters because it also teaches direction.

  2. Play “I’m thinking of a letter.” Begin to write a letter of the alphabet, then have your child guess the letter – continue with parts of the letter until he guesses it or until the whole letter is written.

  3. Create signs for creative play with your child: “Doctor,” “Exit,” “Sit Here,” “Bakery,” “Open” and “Closed” signs for stores.

  4. Use inch cubes (or something similar, like Legos) to represent each syllable of a few words of different lengths (like “pan,” “oven” and “elephant”). Then say one of the words and ask your preschooler to point to which group of blocks that would be. Clap out syllables with her to see if she’s right.

  5. Put out 4 Legos, 3 of one color and 1 of another color. Put 2 of the same together, and put the other 2 together. Say a pair of words beginning alike, like “duck” and “dog.” Ask your child to choose the pair of Legos that goes with that. Continue by saying more word pairs, some beginning alike and some beginning with different sounds, like “turtle” and “fox.” This is a great activity for phonemic awareness.

  6. Have your child help you with grocery lists as you write the items for her to see. “Sound out” each word as you print it.

  7. Make a category book with magazine pictures: pictures of animals, pictures of vehicles, pictures of furniture, etc. Write the names of the items next to them. Ask your child to find the names of the items that begin with a certain letter and “read” them to you.

You can, and should, focus on spelling frequently throughout the day. Point out the sounds and letters in words as you read to your child – not only books, but also cereal boxes, juice containers, street signs – anything available to read to your child. Don’t expect her to catch on right away. It usually takes years of experience with listening, speaking and seeing written words for children to develop into spellers. By starting early, though, your child can begin school with a head start – ready to read, write and spell.