Homeschooling Spelling - does a low-stress, child-led approach actually work?

Homeschooling spelling is a bit like learning times tables – it involves a lot of rote learning, is incredibly boring, the real-life reasons for mastering it aren’t immediately apparent, and it is shoved on children at a too-young age.

Or maybe that’s just my opinion.

In my head, spelling works a bit strangely. I can picture the word in my head, and read the letters from left to right. The husband calls it my head blackboard. While this photographic memory for words works really well for me, my children don’t appear to have inherited it.

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And because I never actually learned to spell, or ever struggled with it, I’m pretty terrible at teaching it. You would think being good at something would make it easier to teach it, but I’ve found that’s definitely not the case.

So when my children were young, around 6-8, we attempted to do spelling in a school-like way. Because that must work, right? It’s what everyone does? I found some lists, we did look-cover-write-check and a short and casual test after each list.

It didn’t work AT ALL.

They found it boring. I found it boring. Worst of all, they didn’t remember anything! Only a few weeks after covering a word in the list, they’d misspell it and I’d find they’d completely forgotten it. It was like most rote learning – it just didn’t stick once the test was over.

We tried a few resources and methods, but they were all pretty much the same – lists and repetition and rules with more exceptions than inclusions. They all got the same response, too.

We ditched formal spelling pretty quickly.

I can’t pretend I was completely comfortable with ignoring it – spelling is important to me, and watching them write sentences like, ‘thay went too tha shopes’ nearly drove my internal spelling police crazy. But the alternative was tears from everyone (including me), and they’d already shown me that when they were ready they learned quickly and easily, so I let it go.

Apart from a few important words (such as because and they), we didn’t pay much attention to spelling. If they wanted to write a letter or a story, they would draft it, I would copy and correct it, then they would copy it back. Or they would ask how to spell words as they needed. We kept reading, playing games, and talking about words and language. Every now and again we would test a sample of a spelling program, but none met their approval. Their spelling slowly improved, but they were not great spellers by any stretch of the imagination.

I crossed my fingers and figured a love of language and writing was more important than getting every detail correct. When the motivation is there, the skills follow. That belief has worked well every time I’ve trusted it, and it didn’t fail this time either.

When the motivation is there, the skills follow. Let your child lead. Fearless Homeschool quote.

Around the age of 10, my girls started to want to improve their spelling. They’d study my corrections and make a conscious effort to master common words. They started to notice spelling rules (and contradictions, English being English) and their spelling noticeably improved. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely acceptable.

Recently, at ages 13, 12 and 12, they got to the stage where spelling mastery became an interest, and a structured curriculum started looking like a great idea to them. Having at least five penpals each and not wanting me to correct their draft letters anymore was probably a driving motivation.

Enter All About Spelling.

A friend (and homeschooling mum of 10) lent me a few of her All About Spelling books and the girls started to work through them. They immediately decided that they liked them (this doesn’t happen often, unfortunately). The lessons are straightforward and logically organised by rules. It’s obvious how the words are related and how the rule works – other resources we’ve tried have mystified all of us.

It makes sense.

All About Spelling review

They all started at Level 5. I suggested Level 4, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They’ve agreed to work through the Book 4 flashcards as a compromise.

(This is what learner-directed learning looks like – children have an informed opinion, and are not afraid to argue for it. Vociferously. But they then work extra-hard to prove themselves right, so I really don’t mind).

I’m pleased to report that months later the knowledge is still sticking, and all three have vastly improved their spelling. Without stress, huge hours, or endless drilling.

Updated: I recently did a review and full-lesson walk-through of All About Spelling Level 1 – you can watch it here.

 Here’s why we like All About Spelling

  • It’s affordable. The Spelling Interactive Kit lasts the entire program, so if you have more than one child you can reuse it.
  • It’s straightforward. AAS doesn’t require me to learn the complete linguistics behind spelling or memorise phonemes, and I’m grateful. I can understand the lessons at a glance.
  • It’s quick. Each lesson can be done in around 15 minutes because they’re not filled with fluff.
  • The Spelling Interactive Kit provides hands-on practice without me needing to spend hours crafting.
  • My girls can do it independently. They rarely need me to explain or help.
  • It’s low-tech. We like books and non-screen resources. There is a Letter Tiles app, but it’s optional.
  • It’s secular. It doesn’t use religious quotes or any other theological references.
All About Spelling

How to start using All About Spelling

Decide whether you need to start now. Is your child interested? Will they be cooperative? Or would you be better off waiting a little longer?

If they’re ready, (and only if they’re ready) do the appropriate placement test and work through the relevant samples. Properly. This is the best way to avoid curriculum regret.

If you and your child like the program, buy the correct level and get cracking!

Hopefully, you can be like us and find that homeschooling spelling can be pretty low-stress and easy when you follow your child’s lead.

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