The frustration can be overwhelming for small children learning to spell. My first grader has times where she doesn’t want to sit down to work, and this comes from the anxiety of doing something she’s simply not an expert at yet. I sit with her every afternoon after school at the dining room table during homework time and we’ll run through some creative exercises that engage her mind. I am there to support her efforts, and it lets me remind her that we all started in the same place. No one was born with written language skills, and reinforcing this concept does a great deal to take her stress away. Homework is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with children as well as a great way to demonstrate how the material they are practicing can benefit them in the long run.
Homework Can Be a Fun Practical Application
Each Monday, my daughter comes home with a list of ten vocabulary words to practice for a spelling test on Friday. Her teacher and language arts instructor carefully craft the lists to strengthen phonetic skills – just this last week, the lessons entailed compound sounds using Wh– and Th-. As these letter combinations adjust the basic rules of pronunciation, I was expecting a difficult time with my daughter. The previous weeks’ assignments had explored hard and soft consonants, as well as long and short vowels. In the past, we had used the free exercises available on PBSKids.org, but we were entering a more complex territory, so we came up with a few fun ways to practice and strengthen her spelling skills on our own.
We use one unlined pad of art paper for all of her spelling homework. Each sheet is a new exercise, even if we are repeating a previous exercise. It starts with simple copying – she has the list she copied at school, and I have her write it out two or three times to get used to seeing the words spelled correctly. Next, she’ll jump on my laptop and practice typing out the words as I say them. The purpose here is for her to ‘hear’ the word and discover a need to visualize before spelling it out on the screen. The added bonus here of course is that she gets to practice her computer skills.
Getting Word Wacky
Our last step each afternoon is to really get creative. We each take a piece of paper and draw ten monsters, animals, people, or just about anything we can think of. Under each doodle, we place a line. The concept is a bit non-sequitur in nature, but I will then say a word and she will write it under the doodle she thinks it belongs to. It isn’t supposed to make sense, and there can be no wrong answers. Then, we will repeat the exercise with her doodle page. At any point where she gets bogged down on a word, I’ll walk her through the phonetics, then have her concentrate on it while repeating the word and spelling it a few times out loud. I’ll ask prompting questions such as, “What sound is that making?” or “How does this letter sound when next to that letter?” When she works it out on her own, I make a big deal and insist on a high five or a bear hug.
Once the exercises are complete, we’ll practice what she’s learned by completing a spelling quiz. I will mix up the words and say them out loud for her to write down. If any word seems to still be giving her trouble, we simply play around with it until she had it down. When she gets them all correct, there’s that big smile of hers and we can put everything aside until the next day.