How to help your child with best-guess spelling at home
You know that focusing on best-guess spelling at home is worthwhile and can make a big difference in both your child’s academics and in actually making it through daily homework without meltdowns and battles.
(Not on-board with that yet? Read Embrace Best-Guess Spelling to Reduce Homework Drama and 3 Parent Misconceptions About Best-Guess Spelling to see how this concept can truly change your everyday homework experience!)
However, there’s a big leap between knowing that utilizing best-guess spelling at home will be helpful and actually being able to put it into practice in your day-to-day life with your child.
So how do you help your child with best-guess spelling at home?
Here are my top teacher tips on using best-guess spelling at home.
1. Don’t see best-guess spelling as your child being wrong; see it as your child being right.
The biggest issue I notice when talking to parents about their child’s spelling is that parents tend to see their child’s best-guess spelling as wrong, whereas I, as a teacher, see the child’s best-guess spelling as right and as an awesome indication that they are learning and using what I am teaching them about sounds, letters and writing!
Seeing your child as being wrong colors the way you talk to them about their writing – the words you say to them, the tone of voice you use – and can affect their confidence and their willingness to write. And no matter what, it sucks the joy out of writing and makes your child not see themselves as a writer.
Seeing your child as being right, makes the writing experience SO much more enjoyable for both you AND your child and helps you empower your child as a future – and (developmentally-appropriate) current – writer!
2. Think about the message you are giving your child when you point out all the words they spelled wrong.
When you do so, you are telling your child loud and clear that what you value in a writer is perfect spelling. They want to please you and they will strive for what they think you expect and desire.
But since they aren’t developmentally ready yet and they don’t have all the knowledge needed to spell every word in the English language with dictionary perfection, one of two things will happen.
They will either break down and lose it or they will ask you to tell them the spelling of every word they write — and sometimes they’ll even do both! And let me assure you if you haven’t already noticed yourself: Young writers in that state are not eager, engaged, growing, ready-to-learn writers… not by a long-shot!
So, when embracing best-guess spelling at home, do NOT feel the need to point out every word in your child’s writing that is not spelled with dictionary spelling. If your child has written sounds that make sense for what you hear when you say the word, then let those words be.
I give you full permission to do so and assure you that by not pointing out every non-dictionary-spelled word, you will not ruin your child’s future.
3. Do not correct your young child if they have used an appropriate alternate way to spell the sounds in the word they are writing.
This “best-guess spelling” is excellent and well within expectations for preschoolers through second graders. An appropriate alternative spelling means your child wrote letters that make sense for the sounds you hear as you say the word.
For instance, all of the following would be developmentally appropriate ways to spell the word “schedule”: scedul, skedyoul, scedyl, scedule, etc. If you sound out any of those spellings, you’ll come up with a word that sounds like schedule, so they are all appropriate.
4. Praise your child when they correctly listen to sounds
When your child correctly listens to sounds in a word and then writes any of the ways to make that sound, regardless of whether it is the “correct” or “dictionary” spelling, be proud of them. But don’t just think it; tell them that you are pleased with their thinking and the way they are using what they know about sounds!
5. Support your child when they are missing a sound they do know within a word.
It is great to prompt your child to listen for more sounds in words and to help your child sound it out. For example, if your child spelled “birds” as “brs”, slowly stretch out the word for them and say each sound out loud: “/b/ — /r/ — /d/ — /s/”.
Then ask your child if they can try writing all those sounds they hear. Encourage your child to write down all the parts they hear, and add in that D.
However, if your child is missing the silent b in “lamb”, for instance, or is missing the i in “birds”, do not keep telling them to listen to the sounds. If you can’t hear a letter when you sound out a word, you can’t reasonably expect them to know that letter is in the word.
6. Have a time for spelling and have a time for writing.
If your child is doing a spelling lesson, by all means, hold them accountable for correct spelling on all of those words. It is spelling time and that is what you should be focusing on.
However, if your child is trying to get a paragraph written about Abraham Lincoln, don’t interrupt every three words to talk about spelling, when the point of the lesson is history, social studies content, and the non-fiction writing process, for example.
When your child is trying to write their own story about the time their dog got lost, don’t focus on dictionary spelling for every word at the cost of working on story lines, story beginnings, story endings, adding details, using interesting vocabulary, having voice in your writing, organizing thoughts, and so much more!
Writing is not JUST about dictionary spelling.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SPELLING
The number one thing to remember is to always consider your tone of voice and the look on your face.
If you are smiling and have an encouraging tone of voice, the phrase “let’s check that word” has a very different meaning than if you say that same phrase with an annoyed, disappointed, or judgemental tone and a strict, stern or disappointed face.
Stop for a second and really try that yourself. Not just in your head, but say it out loud and make the facial expressions. Can you literally feel the mood change? It’s easy to see how that might affect how your child responds, right?
WHAT EXACT PHRASES SHOULD I SAY?
If you know your child knows a sound, but they omit it or do not use a reasonable guess:
With your smile and encouraging tone, say something like: “Wait a second, hmmm… do we know how to make the sound /ar/? How does that one go?” The results of that approach are SO much more positive for you AND your child than if you say: “Wait. That word is wrong. You know that sound. Come on. Figure it out.”
For misspellings of sight words or words your child has memorized in the past:
These would include words such as “like”, “me”, “my”, “was”, etc that are generally taught throughout pre-k, kindergarten and first grade — and even into second grade. You can say “Hmmm… do we know the dictionary spelling of that word?” – Again, saying it in a supportive, playful tone of voice is what I’ve found works best in the classroom and at home with my children.
If your child did great best-guess spelling:
Tell them that! Say “Wow! I see you are listening to the sounds in the words” or “Great best-guess spelling”.
Alternatively, just leave spelling out of the equation altogether sometimes. If they are already using quality best-guess spelling, then focus on other writing skills. Talk to them about the voice in their writing, how they did a great job with periods and capitals, how their story was interesting and had a problem and solution storyline, how they organized their topics in their writing. There is SO much more to writing than just spelling.
TO SUM IT ALL UP: VALUING BEST GUESS-SPELLING AT HOME
There was a lot of information here, but really, if you remember nothing else, hang onto these core thoughts. Incorporating them into your daily life with your child will be well worth it!
1. See your child’s efforts at listening to sounds and writing one of the many ways to write those sounds as being “right”, not “wrong”.
2. Do everything you can to resist the temptation to point out non-dictionary-spelled words as long as they are spelled in ways that make sense phonetically.
3. Always give spelling feedback/nudges/encouragement with a smile and a kind tone of voice.
4. Praise best-guess spelling as often as you can so your child knows you value their hard work in listening to sounds, their willingness to try and their academic risk-taking more than you value dictionary spelling.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
I always love to hear about your experiences with your child, how this information may help, or what questions you still have. Share in the comments or send me an email – I’ll be thrilled to hear from you!
Do you have a mom friend who could use this information? Anyone you’ve commiserated with over the trials of helping your children with writing? Please share with them – This information is here to help!
PS If you haven’t yet, read Embrace Best-Guess Spelling to Reduce Homework Drama and 3 Parent Misconceptions About Best-Guess Spelling to understand why best-guess spelling is perfect for preschool through 2nd graders and to see how this concept can truly change your everyday homework experience!