Friday, January 21, 2011

Pen Pals and Spelling B's: How We Learn to Spell

We take a relaxed approach to learning around this house. We wait for inspiration. As you may know from reading other posts, one in particular, called "She's Addicted to Reading" I wrote about how my eight year old (seven at the time) learned how to read without much instruction from us. We are finding that when we go with the flow and trust our children to learn, they actually learn faster than when we try to force it on them.

For the past year, since Charlotte has learned to read, she has not been as interested in learning to write. When she has been writing, it's been in all uppercase letters. Some would balk at this, but the way I see it is that as long as I can read the letters, then we can tackle all the rules of grammar, capitalization, punctuation and what not, later. I have not made a fuss about correcting her spelling when she writes her own stories or makes up clues for a good game of spies with her brother. This is what is called "invented spelling". As long as she and her brother can read it, and I can read it, fine by me. With Charlotte, she usually does not like unsolicited feedback about her reading and writing. She takes the direct approach, like "mom, how do you spell..." and I just tell her.

So what has inspired her this time around? Two things: Pen Pals and Spelling B's.

Lately, Charlotte and her good friend Willa have been writing letters back and forth to each other. In the beginning these were just short notes, but now they are evolving into longer, more detailed letters, usually relaying some story or experience. It's also been a while since they have seen each other.

Now, stick with me, because we'll get back to our Pen Pal, Willa. A recent overnight visit to Gramma and Grampa's house gave her ample time to write a story, which she showed Gramma. Gramma also knows about invented spelling and can read Charlotte's stories with ease. I think Gramma read her story and took the opportunity to talk to her about vowels and their sounds and how we can't build words without the vowels. Charlotte was ignited once again with the need to "get it right." She asked me to sit down and help her write her letter to Willa. We sat together for a full hour, alone in the bedroom, making sure all the words were spelled correctly. Most of the time she just needed to say the word out loud and figure out the vowel sound. Sometimes she just needed to be told the correct spelling. (the word 'listened' was particularly tough). Here is the finished product. She was SO proud of herself.

The visit to my mom and dad's was about a week ago. Since then, we had a conversation about how kids in school learn to spell with spelling lists. I just had to go and talk about how this can sometimes be a disjointed and meaningless exercise, especially when the words on the list are just words without context or meaning attached. Just a plain old list. Of course, she had to prove me wrong. She wanted to play Spelling B. When they come up with the idea then usually I don't say no. So, we made up our own game of Spelling B. Charlotte and Finn would take turns spelling the word until someone got it right. It was OK to spell the word on paper. If they just couldn't get it, I would spell it for them. Charlotte kept track of all the words she spelled on a piece of paper, which I just had to record.

She's getting it. On her own time schedule. When she plays, Finn plays too. Funny how that works. Just as a side note, Charlotte learned to read last year at this time. Currently, the book she is reading at night before bed is "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." She just can't seem to put it down.

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