Mastering Grammar and Spelling
Even if your child isn’t naturally competent in grammar or spelling, with diligence and the right materials, he can master the basics well enough to become a good writer. All students need to learn the fundamentals of grammar, but it is not necessary to spend a lot of money on a bank-breaking program. It is also not necessary to spend more than fifteen minutes to a half hour per day working on this subject. Furthermore, if your child is repeatedly misspelling words, there is help that is simple and inexpensive … and surprisingly effective. Do not be discouraged if your child struggles in these areas. Many people are not naturally “gifted” in these aspects of language arts, but with a little time and effort, improvement can be made.
No one seems to know for sure why some children have trouble spelling while others do not. There seems to be a correlation between difficulty learning to read and difficulty with spelling. If your child is still struggling with this after he has mastered reading, then you should consider having him tested by an expert to see if he has dyslexia or a vision issue. The earlier these problems are detected and resolved, the more likely it is that your child will thrive in school and perhaps even enjoy it (or at least not despise it).
If there is no underlying cause, then the answer is hard work, taking time every day (or at least a few times per week) to work on the troublesome words. Students who are not dyslexic and don’t have vision problems can still have trouble spelling, especially if language arts is not their favorite subject. Furthermore, kids sometimes rush through assignments and thus make mistakes they might not have otherwise. They also might not take the time necessary to proofread their work. However, if they can come to understand the value in doing that, they will discover that it can actually save them time, especially if they don’t have to sit down and do a complete rewrite.
I’ve had seven children, and there were a couple who had some difficulty with spelling. They misspelled because they were either rushing, lazy, or didn’t understand yet that their education was for their benefit, not mine. The way I fixed this was by assigning additional work. I would check their writing every day and circle in red whatever was misspelled. They then had to write that word correctly ten times in their spelling notebooks, which were just the inexpensive, spiral-bound variety. At the end of the week, I would test them, using these words.
First, tell your child the word and ask him to spell it aloud for you. Once that has been done correctly, ask him to write it down. There are different processes going on in the brain when one has to spell aloud versus writing, which is why it is important to ask your student to do both, in the order suggested. Have your child keep working on the same words (plus new ones) until they are mastered. You will likely see students who were rushing or lazy taking more time and trying harder once they realize it means they won’t have to write the same word multiple times in their spelling notebook. A bonus is to have students write their spelling words in cursive, if they are in the process of learning it or need more practice.
Another element related to spelling problems (and language arts problems, in general) is reading. If your child doesn’t enjoy reading, find out why. There is a powerful connection between reading and writing. Children who regularly spend time reading good books are better writers and spellers. There can be many reasons why children might not enjoy spending time in a good book: difficulty reading, perhaps due to one of the problems mentioned above, or electronic distractions, laziness, trying to read beyond their level, or dislike of certain genres.
As the use of electronic devices has mushroomed in recent years, young people are reading less. This is causing many problems, not the least of which is the decline in writing skills. It is important for parents to monitor their children’s use of these devices and limit their time on them. All children should read for at least one hour per day; this can be done all at once or divided into shorter periods. One way to ensure that kids follow through with this is to have them put in their hour of reading first, before using their devices. Ask them questions about the books they are reading to be sure they are actually reading them.
Some kids tend to be a bit lazy, and for them, reading is unenjoyable because it feels like work. If this describes your child, you can rest assured this is just a matter of discipline, and your child will thank you later if you help him mature.
While you never want to “dumb down” children’s book options, if they try to read beyond their level and ability, they can become discouraged. Help your child find great literature that is appropriate for his age and reading level. Be careful and choosy; help your child find books that are truly worthwhile. When I’ve scanned the shelves at the local library, I’ve noticed that of all the levels (children, youth, young adult, and adult), the young adult section seems to have more immoral garbage than any other. For some reason, that section has a plethora of books about the occult and sexual impurity. You will have to try harder to find good young adult literature, but it is out there.
Finally, not all children like all literary genres, and that’s okay. Just like we adults prefer certain storylines more than others, so do children. It’s just a matter of discovery. Once your child has found a book he likes, try finding other great books in the same genre. (This is our go-to list when we need ideas of what to read next: http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/celoop/1000.html.)
Finding a grammar program should not be difficult. There are many to choose from. Find one that fits you and your child well. Some of your children will be natural spellers and need little help. Some will need daily help.
We’ve been huge fans of the Easy Grammar series since we first started homeschooling in the early ‘90s. After doing a lot of research to determine which books we should use, I read such rave reviews of this program that I ordered it. Once we began using it, I agreed 100% with the reviewers who said it was excellent, thorough, and easy to use. It also happens to be inexpensive, and only the student workbooks are consumable. We use this series beginning in fourth or fifth grade, but we don’t use it every year unless the help is needed.
During the off years, we use Daily Grams, which is published by the same company and helps students’ minds stay sharp and on top of everything they learned in Easy Grammar. Like Easy Grammar, this program is inexpensive, easy to use, and doesn’t take more than about fifteen minutes per day. Each lesson contains five review problems about capitalization, punctuation, spelling, parts of speech, and sentence structure. Daily Grams is an easy, simple way for students with a basic understanding of grammar to keep those skills sharp.
Whatever curriculum you choose, be consistent and don’t let your child become lazy. Mastering grammar and spelling can be done, but not in a day. It takes time and patience and consistency. A little bit of help and encouragement every day and your children will be well on their way to becoming proficient in grammar and spelling.
Nancy Doran has been married to Mark, an attorney, for almost 30 years. They have seven children and have been homeschooling since 1992. Besides writing, Nancy also edits college application essays, proofreads for a book publishing company, and teaches college preparatory writing to homeschooled teens. She is also active in the fight to end abortion. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at www.nancygillarddoran.blogspot.com.
Copyright, 2015. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, Summer 2015. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.