Helping your child to spell doesn't have to be overwhelming once you understand the patterns, strategies and rules involved
Helping your child learn to spell can be overwhelming, especially if you don't know where to start. But don't be deterred—there are patterns to be uncovered, strategies to be learned, and rules to help children unlock spelling.
Research shows that spelling influences writing in the middle and upper primary years (Daffern, Mackenzie and Hemmings, 2017) and therefore it is critical to experience early success.
Download our handy set of printable CVC picture cards here to let your child practise their spelling with fun themed images.
Good listening skills are essential for young learners. From their first gurgle, word and sentence, they're always listening and mimicking sounds around them. Phonemic awareness is a listening skill and it’s important for spelling. In fact, oral language and phonemic awareness can predict writing vocabulary in the first year of school (Mackenzie and Hemmings, 2014) and some studies have shown it can predict writing competency at age 11 (Savage, Carless & Ferraro, 2007).
So, what is phonemic awareness? It's the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. It's an aural/oral skill so requires no writing, but it helps with future writing. As children learn to hear and identify sounds, they can tell you the number of sounds in a word and say each sound separately. Hearing and segmenting words into individual sounds is a key early spelling skill and yes, it doesn't require anyone to pick up a pencil! Try these at home to build phonemic awareness for spelling success.
Short, silly and packed full of fun, listening to poetry is an excellent way to help children develop the crucial skill of phonemic awareness for foundational spelling skill development. Try the sing‑song of rhyming poems by Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, and Edward Lear.
Sing nursery rhymes together with lots of expression. Play with soft and loud voices to act out characters like Humpty Dumpty, The Grand Old Duke of York, Miss Molly, Baa Baa Black Sheep and There was an Old Woman. The repetition of sounds make these excellent tools to build phonemic awareness and strengthen spelling skills.
Phonics skills show children that sounds are represented by different letters. It includes being able to:
know that letters and sounds are linked
form letter-sound correspondences
hear, sort and write letter sounds.
Start by making your child aware of letters in their environment. Point out letters around the home; e.g., on cereal boxes, in books you’re reading, or on birthday cards. Then ask your child to trace the letter with their finger to commit the letter shape to memory.
Make a Letter
Write letters in sand boxes, in the air, in shaving cream or using sticks and leaves. It doesn't take much to be creative and make the process fun! Be sure to make the most common sound for the letter and connect it to a known object; e.g., This is the letter emmmm. Say the sound mmmm, like in mouse or monkey.
Once your child is confident with letters and sounds you can move onto simple words. A great group of words to target are consonant-vowel-consonant words (often called CVC words). These words are easier to hear and segment individual sounds. Here are some examples:
Initially, we can help children by teaching words using the most common letter-sound combinations and this is an important early confidence builder. Research proves that students have more spelling success if they learn to recognise common spelling patterns. Onset and rime involves looking at groups of words that have the same patterns and it’s a great tool. In a word, onset is the first sound(s) before the vowel and the rime is everything that comes after; e.g., for cake, c (onset) ake (rime). Onset and rime helps learners identify chunks in words. In time, this helps build word families (those with similar rimes) which is an important early spelling skill.
What Rhymes with?
Teach your child a new word that is tricky to sound out like cake. Write it down together. Use two different coloured markers to identify the onset and rime. Ask for words that rhyme with cake (bake, fake, take, make, lake, shake, rake). Spell each word. Next time you child asks for you to spell a word you can say, “Do you know a word that rhymes with this word? Do you know how to spell that word?”
Make a Book
Make a flip book of onsets and rimes. On the left, have a set of single letter consonant cards for the onsets and on the right, a set of cards with rimes on them. Use the first rime and flip through the onsets to identify as many ‘real’ words as they can. Have them write a word family list for the rime to secure its place in the child’s memory. Just focus on one word family in a session.
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