There came a time in Henry’s young life when he began to ask tricky questions that grown ups struggled to answer.
Family times began to unravel as Henry persisted in his quest for answers. Bounding with energy and excitement he fired off question after question. All was wonderful at first, in fact, he showed all the signs of being a child genius!
‘How do you spell cat?’
‘Easy,’ beamed proud Mum, ‘c-a-t.’
‘Grandad, how do you spell dog?’
‘D-o-g, its easy isn’t it!’
‘How do you spell pig?’
‘Oh you are so clever!’
Henry basked in the glow of adult admiration, and the comforting blanket of relief that he would learn to read just like that… easy peasy.
But then it fell apart. This clever child wanted to know how to spell all the animals in the world.
‘How do you spell snail?’
’S-n-a-i….(trailing off a little)-l’
,‘Why is there an a and an i?’
‘They spell ai,’ says Dad feeling teacherish.
‘So I spell ape like a-i-p?’‘Well, no, ape is spelled like a-p-e…’
‘The e makes the a into an ai sound.’
‘I don’t know…It just is’
‘Well, what about reindeer, is it r-a-n-e-deer? Oh I know!…r-a-i-n-deer!’
‘No…it’s r-e-i-n deer…’
‘What!!! Are you sure… why?’
‘Ummmm …well …you’ll learn that later…look over there…’
And suddenly the path to child-genius-land is riddled with road blocks in the form of crazy English spelling…
Henry is a bright and enthusiastic little kid bouncing along discovering the world of words. He’s cute and funny, and he has no clue about how complex spelling really is.
No-one in his world quite knows how, and when, to explain to him that there are many different ways to spell sounds in words. They try, but he quickly glazes over and reaches for the nearest screen to tap. There’s a vague awareness that suddenly the alphabet isn’t enough, and in fact is confusing him, but ‘shhh,’ we mustn’t mention that, people have been using the alphabet just fine for generations… haven’t they?
All adults can spell, right? The ‘old ways’ made sure everyone knew how to spell…right?
That’s why there are so many funny websites chuckling about the cafe selling ‘dognuts’, or ‘bowels of soup’, or the sign I saw recently proudly selling ‘fired rice’… All written by adults, and although these are amusing, in all seriousness poor spelling can have dire consequences.
No particular era or method is to blame.The hardest part about learning to spell is that there are so many ways to spell sounds in English words. Various programs will work more or less depending on the student and the teacher.
Children can feel bombarded with rules and exceptions and spelling history and tests and endless disconnected lists and worksheets. Just for interest, ask a child what some of the words mean on their spelling list. Taken out of context they will more than likely rattle off the ‘easy’ words but have no clue about the ‘harder’ words. What is the point of that! Phonics is essential but is not enough on its own, and in fact can put children off spelling for life.
Teaching spelling is simple if taken from the child’s perspective. What do they hear and then how do they represent what they hear on paper? Learning to spell is basically a process of hearing sounds in words and learning which letters to choose to spell those sounds. The challenge is to make it easy and fun.
Back to Henry…
‘Ms T, I know that the letter ‘e’ makes an ‘e’ sound, just like ‘egg’ on that chart on my desk, so why did you make a red mark on my story when I wrote, ‘Fred sed?’
This is where Ms T draws on her armory of spelling strategies and hopefully finds a way to help Henry through his indignation.
What will she choose… a rule, a worksheet, a verbal explanation, ‘write it out 10 times’, a spelling game…or maybe…if Henry is lucky… any of those, but add interest, context and meaning with a proper story!