And then years passed, and I woke up one day and I was a homeschooling mom. Almost overnight, spelling became sort of a big deal. Homeschooling and educational guides got me thinking about things I had never even considered up to that point. Was I going to teach using the phonics method or the whole word method? Would I use visual and kinesthetic manipulatives? Did I know all the phonograms, and how to correctly pronounce them? Well, as you can imagine, spelling anxiety began to kick in, and I felt pretty sure that whatever method I used would probably be the wrong one.
Somehow, though, with son number one, I got lucky. He seemed to inherit the spelling gene, and no matter how badly I botched up his spelling instruction, he seemed to be able to rise above it. But then along came son number two. I could tell things were going to be different with him from the get-go. In his second grade year, we discovered he had dyslexia, and all my spelling theories went right out the window. It didn’t seem to matter if I used the phonetic or whole word method, or how many phonograms I memorized, he just wasn’t getting it.
But the more I “studied” spelling, the more I came to understand that my son wasn’t the only one having spelling difficulties. Many intelligent children and adults have trouble with English spelling - - and for good reason. English is one of the most difficult languages in the world, with 43 speech sounds, and 90 basic spelling patterns. Even if a person masters all of the main spelling rules of English, he or she may still struggle with the thousands of words that are ‘exceptions’ to these rules.
So with the uphill battle of homeschooling a poor speller and battling the difficult English language, how do I keep my sanity? Fortunately, I have discovered a few tools that help make our lessons more palatable and certainly more beneficial. One website I cannot recommend highly enough is Spelling City. This revolutionary free program allows you to input your own spelling lists, or use one of the thousands of lists already available. A real human voice teaches your child the words on their list, and then lets them play games, such as word searches, hangman, unscramble, and matching games. There is even a new feature that lets you turn the spelling words into a printable handwriting worksheet! My son never complains about practicing his spelling words when he gets to play on Spelling City. We also use Spelling City’s sister site, Vocabulary.co.il, for additional fun spelling and vocabulary activities.
Another tool we couldn’t do without is Franklin’s Spelling Ace (compare prices). This is a wonderful tool for times when you are writing on paper and a computer spell checker is not available. It has a built-in thesaurus with over 500,000 synonyms and antonyms, and provides games for practicing your spelling words, and tools for helping you figure out “confusables”, such as homonyms, homophones, and difficult spellings. This little machine fits right in the palm of your hand and can be carried anywhere - perfect for when homeschooling on the go.
An invaluable program we discovered recently is As-u-type. This program works with any Windows program as an automatic spell-checker. It spell checks emails, documents, messages - - any application that requires typing - - all in real time. And the best part is that it not only helps you spell your words correctly, but tracks your mistakes. After a few days of homeschool, I go into the program and print out all of my son’s spelling errors from his typing. Then I use those errors to compile his next spelling list, so he is able to focus on words that are giving him difficulty, and not spending time on ones he already spells well.
Each of these tools has made our homeschool spelling time more enjoyable, and more efficient. And although I still may not wake up first thing in the morning and get excited about that day’s spelling lesson, I definitely wake up with a sense that there are some terrific assistive programs to make spelling a subject we can all look forward to.