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The Right Time to Start Spelling Instruction

Children have such a diversity of needs—especially when it comes to spelling. If you are wondering when is the best time to start teaching spelling to your child, this post is for you! And since there are no “one size fits all” answers to this question, we’ll explore a wide variety of situations. Let’s dig in!

Is Your Student Ready for Spelling Lessons?

Before we talk spelling, let’s look at reading for a moment.

Can your child easily read these words?

Level 1 All About Reading Words

If those words were easy for your child to read, he’s ready to start spelling instruction. All About Spelling Level 1 is the perfect place to start.

If your child can’t read those words, hold off on spelling lessons until he can read at this basic level. For most kids, spelling comes much more easily after they know how to read. (We’ll discuss a possible exception later in this post.)

3 Reasons to Delay Spelling Instruction Until Your Child Has Begun to Read

  1. While learning to read, students pick up basic skills that will enable them to spell more easily.

    For example, in All About Reading Level 1 a number of important reading skills are thoroughly and systematically taught. Students learn the sounds of the phonograms and learn how to blend these sounds into words. They gain phonemic awareness skills like rhyming and alliteration. They learn how words work.

    This strong foundation in reading paves the way for an incremental introduction of spelling skills and strategies that help students become successful spellers.

  2. All About Spelling - The Right Time to Start
  3. It’s easier to decode words (that is, read) than it is to encode words (spell).

    Reading requires decoding. Once a child learns that the phonogram AY always says /ā/, reading words like stay, display, and mayhem is easy. But spelling requires encoding. Consider the sound of /ā/, which can be written as A, AI, EA, A-consonant-E, EIGH, EI, EY, and AY. Can you see why it may be easier for a child to read the word neighbor than it is for him to spell the word neighbor?

    Acquiring the skills required to decode words provides the foundation students need to learn to encode words.

  4. Reading helps build a visual memory of many words, which makes spelling much easier.

    This visual memory will enable your child to see when they’ve misspelled something. It also helps determine whether to spell height as height or hite, and how to choose between homophones such as merry, Mary, or marry. Learning to read first provides a “scaffolding” approach to learning spelling.

Successful spelling requires a combination of four main spelling strategies—visual, phonetic, rules-based, and morphemic—and reading gives your student a strong start in all four areas.

All About Spelling - The Right Time to Start

3 Reasons to Start Spelling NOW

While you don’t want to start spelling lessons too early, you don’t want to wait too long, either.

This is an important point. Some programs recommend that you delay spelling instruction until the child is in third grade. Assuming your child can read at the basic level, third grade is too long to wait. Here’s why:

  1. You don’t want your child to start guessing at how to spell words. Bad habits are hard to correct. It is better to learn something correctly the first time.
  2. Spelling should be taught before your child needs it for other subjects in school.
  3. Gaining skills and confidence early in his school years will keep your child from internalizing the idea that “I’m just a bad speller.”

Ideally, you should start teaching spelling by the end of first grade. But if your child is older than that, don’t despair! All About Spelling is perfect for older kids as well.

Spelling: how much time should I spend? - a post from All About Spelling

For Some Kids, Spelling Comes before Reading

Some kids are actually able to wrap their minds around spelling more easily than reading. These kids are usually very analytical, and some of them have tried to learn to read so many times that they are frustrated with the whole process. Most often, their previous reading programs have let them down and they feel like they’ve hit a wall. But when they start fresh with All About Spelling, it’s like a light bulb goes on.

Instead of trying yet another reading program—and fearing they’ll never be able to read—a fresh start with spelling might be exactly what they need. It’s not normally the way it works, but for some kids, learning to spell actually makes reading easier! We’ve heard from many delighted parents and tutors who report that their students’ reading level increased a couple of grade levels as they worked through All About Spelling. That’s what I like to hear!

We just considered a variety of scenarios, but for the vast majority of students, the answer to “When do I start?” is very simple: If your child can read, it’s the perfect time to begin spelling instruction. Just don’t wait too long!

Additional Spelling Resources You May Find Useful

  • Learn more about using All About Spelling with older students.
  • Use our placement test to determine which All About Spelling level is best for your child.
  • Download samples of All About Spelling.
  • Find LOTS of help for struggling learners here.
  • Click here to learn more about the logical progression of language arts instruction.
  • Consider these factors when selecting a spelling program for your child.
  • Wondering if All About Spelling is right for your child? Check out these seven common spelling scenarios.

If you ever have questions about timing and placement for your specific situation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’re here to help!

Photo credit: The Unlikely Homeschooler

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Leave a Comment

Tracy

says:

We have loved the first two levels of the reading program so far, and my 4 and 5 year olds most definitely have a great start on spelling because of it! Thank you for the great points to consider. We will be trying out AAS1 since they love to write letters and cards to everyone now :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tracy,
While most children aren’t ready to begin spelling at the young ages of 4 and 5, some are and do very well with All About Spelling. I think now is a good time to start since they are so interested in writing letters and cards. If you keep the lessons short and lighthearted, they should do very well.

Kris

says:

I just order your reading and spelling books. I have dyslexia and so does my son. I have trouble pronouncing letter sound and vowel sounds. Is there a video for me to watch to make sure I am pronouncing the sound correctly.

Jessica Rieman

says:

I have 2 great readers, but they’re poor spellers. I appreciate the tips you offer!

Megan

says:

Hi, we are using AAR and AAS and love the approach of both. Just two questions, with spelling, how do you know when a spelling word is mastered? And then with my latest AAR purchase, a level 4 color addition:) a bunch of the pages in the appendix section have been bound in a way that they are cut in half…. Please advise, we live in South Africa…
Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Megan,
I’m sorry the printing of your purchase was off! Please email us what pages are messed up and photos of them, so we can speak to our printer about it. We’ll see what we can do to make this right.

As for how you know when a spelling word is mastered, a word is mastered when a student can spell it easily without hesitation. I like to have my child review the words daily until after a weekend. I have found if she can spell words easily on Monday morning after two days off of spelling, then I can be pretty confident they are mastered. However, if at any time she misspells a word later, such as in dictation, I will put it back out for daily review.

I hope this helps. Let us know which pages are messed up and photos and we’ll take care of that as well.

Jayme

says:

My 8 year old son loves All About Spelling!

StaciS

says:

My daughter is in 3rd grade so we are trying to figure out what level she needs to start at ??

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Staci,
We have a spelling placement test that can help you determine which level to start with. After you go through with your daughter, if you still have questions let me know.

DaraM

says:

My child is a 13 year old in 7th grade reading on a 3.6 reading level. Her spelling is even worse. She has a learning disability and noone has worked with her as intensely through the years as I feel should have been during her school years, and of course there’s the lack of consistency through the grades (different teachers, different programs, etc). I have been brought to tears so many times trying to help her and not knowing where to start. After years of struggling and frustration, and researching your program (and others), I am currently crying tears of joy thinking and hoping this program will be the turning point for her. Thank you so much for this affordable opportunity to help her. Now that I’m home all day every day due to the corona virus, I will be able to give her my undivided attention, and one-on-one instruction I have never been able to give her. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for letting me see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Dara,
I’m glad that you have found some hope. If there is anything you need, any information, if you have any questions, need help with placement, or anything, please let me know.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I think you may find our blog post Using All About Spelling with Older Students helpful.

Donald Errol Knight

says:

Interesting…especially as I have a student in Grade 6 whose spelling is all over the place. That student also has reading issues.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Let me know if you have any questions or need anything, Donald. All About Spelling is very effective even for older students. Check out our blog post, Using All About Spelling with Older Students

Stacy Clemenson

says:

This was a helpful article. Thank you!

Heather

says:

This curriculum has been a game changer for us!!

Lizzy

says:

Hello! My gifted 3rd grader has been stuck at a second grade reading level for an entire year despite abundant support at home and weekly tutoring. He has great vocabulary and good comprehension, but can’t pass the fluency part of the test. His writing and spelling is well below that of his peers. He also has a mild deficit in working memory. His school has offered him accommodations, but no services. I would like to help him at home, but am not sure where to start. Would AllAbout Reading be appropriate for him? All About Spelling? Should I do both at the same time? Alternate?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lizzy,
Yes, All About Reading would be very appropriate for a student that isn’t making progress in reading.

Start with All About Reading. Use our placement tests to help you determine where to start. You want your student to be reading fluently and smoothly with good comprehension before going to a higher level.

Note, our levels are not the same as grade levels. All About Reading groups words in a logical manner based on similar rules or patterns regardless of their supposed grade level, which allows students to progress quickly and confidently. At the end of the final level, AAR 4, students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words.

Then, once you have started working in All About Reading and have become comfortable in it, start All About Spelling. He may be ready to start spelling just a week or two after starting reading, so to save on shipping it would be best to order All About Spelling level 1 at the same time you order whatever level of All About Reading he needs. Note, if he does need to start with All About Reading level 1, you will want to wait until he has made it through at least lesson 16 before starting All About Spelling.

Once you start All About Spelling, you will work on both spelling and reading daily. However, we recommend doing reading for just 20 minutes a day and spelling for just 15 to 20 minutes a day. These blog posts explain this further. How Much Time Should You Spend On Reading? Spelling: How Much Time Should I Spend?

I hope this helps, but if you have more questions after going over the placement tests or need more information just let me know.

Marie

says:

This is a super helpful article. I have always womdered when to start spelling.

Vida

says:

This brings up the question of my daughter. She is 8. She is learning to read very slowly. (She is autistic and I believe she also has dyslexia). Currently she is in AAR level 2 and sounds put the words making mistakes as she goes but she gets there in the end. It is not easy or enjoyed. She loves the games and activities but not the books or the reading. One word at a time isn’t too much but sentences and paragraphs are. However, she LOVES spelling. She begs for spelling time. She is currently doing AAS level 1. All the words are, obviously, words she has previously learned to read in AAR. I have been making sure that she doesn’t go to fast in spelling by including ALL the “more” words and she has to spell them a set number of times before they are considered mastered. As of yet she spells them correctly right from the beginning. The repetitions are more to slow her down (and for future words) than for mastery. Should I let her continue with spelling and possibly overtake her reading level or continue to slow down her spelling level?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Vida.

Go ahead and allow her to progress in spelling, even if she overtakes reading. My own youngest child did exactly that and learning to spell words first helped her to learn to read them more easily, at least for a while.

Also, you can use spelling as an additional way to work on reading. Do this by asking her to read every word she spells to check if she has spelled it correctly. My daughter sometimes had trouble with it. It was odd to see her struggle to correctly read a word she had just spelled easily. Do continue to use all the More Words and do all the Dictation phrases. The more she spells and reads what she spells, the more reinforcement it will give her for reading.

In regards to her struggles with reading, it is important to not move forward until she can read the stories with a fair amount of ease. If it is such a struggle for her, moving forward will just make it all that more of a struggle. Again, my daughter had this problem as well. We ended up having to back up and start rereading the stories two or three days in a row until she could read them smoothly, having to sound out just a few words per page. It took time, but it made all the difference in her ability to read fluently and begin to enjoy reading. The Buddy Reading with Your Child blog post showcases my daughter and me and how I read the stories with her to help her become fluent.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have additional questions or need anything else. I’d love to hear how things are going from time to time too.

Trisha Porter

says:

I used All About Spelling with 2 of my children. I’m about to start it with my daughter who is in 2nd grade. She really struggles with reading so I’m a little anxious about it. We haven’t had her tested yet, but I’m wondering if she might be dyslexic.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Trisha,
You may find our Symptoms of Dyslexia Checklist informative. We also have a Dyslexia Resources page that will be helpful.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Ina

says:

Using All About Spelling (1&2) in combination with All About Reading (2&3) has been very helpful for us as they complement each other so well. My son has made great progress.

Jodie Adamantine

says:

This is great. It’s important for kids who don’t start literacy early to separate reading and writing and spelling clearly.

Tricia

says:

This has been so helpful…with all the options out there it can be so hard to piece it all together and know when to start what!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Tricia. We have another blog post, Language Arts in My Household, that gives an overview of when to start all the different aspects of language arts that you may also find helpful.

Dr. Mom

says:

I really appreciated this post. I have a lot of friends who often question why I didn’t start spelling sooner. I can now share this blog post with them so they don’t stress about what they are or aren’t teaching yet.

Nikki C

says:

This is so helpful. My son says he LOVES spelling but isn’t quite proficient in reading yet. Makes me wonder what they are doing in school.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It may just be how he learns, Nikki. Two of my kids found spelling much easier and more satisfying at first. But in time their reading caught up (and then overtook) their spelling abilities.

Barbara Hendricks

says:

My son is on the last lesson of AAS level 1 and has loved it!

Jesica Rokohl

says:

This was super helpful! I’ve found it so hard to gauge if it’s time to start with my youngest child because my older child kindof took the reigns. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jesica.

Cindy Cain

says:

These helpful articles coupled with the AAS&AAR program is why I love AAR. You make me feel supported as an educator and you make me feel as though you care about kids actually learning to read and spell.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Awww, thank you, Cindy! It warms my heart to be able to have a hand in helping educators feel confident and supported.

Christa Gregg

says:

This article was helpful in confirming my gut decision to wait on spelling for my little guy. It was encouraging to read that I was thinking correctly about the reasons I was hesitating.

Angela

says:

Helpful post.

Jessica Will

says:

I have been working on spelling with my students. This blog has been helpful as I am teaching .

Elizabeth

says:

We are excited to start All About Spelling!

Christie Martinez

says:

We love AAS and it is such an easy program to use!

Miriam

says:

Your resources are amazing!

Ali

says:

My daughter is thriving with All About Spelling! Thanks for creating such a multi-sensory approach to teaching such foundational concepts.

Julie W

says:

We love All About Spelling! This is a great reminder for my little one. Thank you!

Christi

says:

We love All About Spelling!

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