Helping your child to spell

As Winnie the Pooh once put it: “My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places."

Even experts admit English is not the most logical of languages. So how do you help your little ones with their spelling “wobbles” when the rules are so irregular?

The first step is to start early and ‘read, read, read’. It may sound obvious, but reading to your children from a very young age is vital to their future literacy.

A recent study revealed more than half of primary school teachers have seen at least one child who has never been read stories at home. Yet as literacy expert Pie Corbett says, being read to on a regular basis is a “key predictor” in future educational achievement.

[Related feature: How to teach your child to read]

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She adds: “The best writers in the class are always those who are avid readers.”

So read anything and everything together, from alphabet books to cereal packets and birthday cards. And as your child grows up, encourage them to read a whole host of things: books, magazines, comics, joke books, newspapers and more.

But with regular reading under your belt, what else can you do? To mark World Spelling Day, here is our guide to help teach your tots to spell – the fun and painless way!

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Use a dictionary

Don’t rely on the Internet – get into the habit of using dictionaries with your child whenever you come across difficult words. A picture dictionary can make exploring language more interesting.

Use magnetic letters

Whenever you come across an unusual word, help your child to find out what it means and spell it out together on a fridge door or easel with magnetic letters.

Play spelling games

Word games can make spelling fun. For instance, play I-Spy in the car or play rhyming games asking questions such as, ‘What is cute, fluffy and rhymes with mitten?’

Get them writing even when they’re drawing

Get your tot into the habit of titling and signing all their drawings.

Learn nursery rhymes

Learn nursery rhymes together and recite them aloud from illustrated books. Encourage your child to point to the words that relate to objects pictured – such as ‘cat’, ‘dog’ or ‘hat’.

Start with a name

Help your child to recognise his or her own name. Start with just the first letter. Point it out when you see it in another word; write it; help your child trace over it with their finger while you say the letter.

Use bright crayons

Encourage your child to print first words using brightly coloured crayons, and lavish lots of praise on them as they get it right. Repetition will help them to learn how to spell.

Make labels

Help your child to print labels for their things (books, games, toy box) to show that spelling has meaning.

Talk nonsense

Play games with nonsense words, for example ‘froggy schmoggy’

Show them off

Display your child’s drawing and writing to show how proud you are of their achievements.

Write on everything!

Write letters in bath bubbles, the sandpit, or in a steamed-up bathroom mirror and say the sound it makes (‘b’ for boy, for example). Finger-write a big letter on your child’s back and ask which letter it is and what sound it makes. And spell words in the air together and guess what the other one has written…

Talk as you read

As you read talk about words together. For example, ‘Which is the longest word on this page?’ or ‘How is ‘dog’ different from ‘frog’?’

Set up a home message board

Pin up a message board at home and get into the habit of writing messages to each other.

Find spelling in everyday tasks

Write your shopping list in front of your child and talk about what you are doing; ask them to find products in the supermarket that begin with certain letters (e.g. find a cereal beginning with ‘W’)

Look for spelling everywhere

Search for the letters of his or her name at home, in the garden, as you walk along the street or browse in shops

Talk about signs

For example, point out your street name or road signs so your child understands that words have a purpose.

Put junk mail to good use

Use those missives you chuck straight in the recycling and ask your child to circle words that have a certain letter such as ‘m’ or a sound like ‘sh’. Count how many times they can find a common word such as ‘the’ or ‘and’. Underline all the two or three-letter words, and so on.

Play with simple anagrams

Try rearranging the letters in words to make other words, starting out easy and going on to harder ones. For example ‘on’ and ‘no’; ‘dad’ and ‘add’, ‘dog’ and ‘god’.

Don’t tell, teach

As they get older let them ‘have a go’ at spelling words before you weigh in. When your child has tried a word, rather than telling them where they went wrong, write the correct word on a piece of paper and ask them to tell you what they got right and wrong. Praise what is right before suggesting any changes.

Play spelling card and board games

Junior Scrabble’s a good one, or ‘first words’ Snap

Make cards

Get your child to make birthday and Christmas cards or party invitations. They will enjoy writing for a purpose. Make it fun with coloured paper, felt tips, glitter and stickers

Break words up

Break words into chunks or syllables. To begin with, clap as you say each syllable, e.g. two claps for birth-day

Look for little words in bigger words

Play at finding little words in longer ones, such as ‘me’ in ‘memory’ or ‘the’ in ‘there’

Use the 'look, say, cover, write, check!’ method

Look at the word, say it, cover it up, write it, and then check your spelling. This method is often used in schools, with frequent repetition helping spellings to sink in.

Use mnemonics

Mnemonics are a great way of remembering how to spell tricky words. For instance, to teach ‘because’ try ‘big elephants can't always understand small elephants’. Or for ‘hear’, try “‘hear’ has an ‘ear’ in it”.

Sing the word

This is apparently one of the tricks used by contestants at American Spelling Bees. Learn the word by saying or singing the letters out loud, developing a melody. The idea is that if your child forgets a spelling they will still remember the word’s rhythm and tune, which will prompt them.