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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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Amber

says:

I feel like you have described my child in your final scenario. He is 8 and a half and just starting 3rd grade. We have done 3 different phonics programs with him and he is still frustrated and struggling. I tried spelling with him last year, and it was such a source of frustration as well. I’m struggling to know which will be a better approach for him. AAR or AAS. I just did the AAR level 2 placement test with him and he did pretty good, but still struggled a lot. And he said he doesn’t want to switch to another reading curriculum

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amber,
In this situation, we would recommend starting All About Reading level 1 and All About Spelling level 1. However, if you prefer to not change your reading program, I still think All About Spelling can help.

Both All About Reading and All About Spelling are Orton-Gillingham based, which is a proven approach for helping students with dyslexia and other learning struggles. It’s also the approach that the International Dyslexia Association recommends. The author of AAR and AAS, Marie Rippel, is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and has instructed graduate-level courses in Orton-Gillingham Literacy Training offered through Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Literacy Task Force in Wisconsin and tutored students for more than 20 years. If you haven’t had a chance to watch their story about her son’s struggles, you may want to check that out (they were told he would never read). Quite amazing!

Here are some ways that All About Reading and All About Spelling can help kids that struggle to learn:

– Each lesson time is simple and explicit and will include 3 simple steps: the review of what was learned the day before, a simple new teaching, and a short practice of that new teaching.

– Incremental lessons. AAR and AAS break every teaching down into its most basic steps and then teach the lessons in a logical order, carrying students from one concept or skill to the next. Each step builds on what the student has already mastered.

– AAR and AAS are multisensory. Research has shown that when a child is taught through all three pathways at the same time, a method known as simultaneous multisensory instruction, he will learn significantly more than when taught only through his strongest pathway.

– AAR and AAS use specially color-coded letter tiles or Letter Tile app. Working with the letter tiles can make the difference between understanding or not understanding a concept.

– AAR and AAS are scripted so you can concentrate on your child. The script is very clear, without excess verbiage.

– AAR and AAS have built-in review in every lesson. Children with learning difficulties generally need lots of review in order to retain concepts. With AAR and AAS, your child will have a Review Box so you can customize the review. This way, you can concentrate on just the things that your child needs help with, with no time wasted on reviewing things that your child already knows.

– All About Reading has lots of fluency practice. One of the things that Marie noticed when she was researching reading programs is that few programs have enough review built in for kids who struggle to gain fluency. AAR has fluency sheets or a story to be read with every lesson, so children can practice reading smoothly with expression and confidence.

– All About Spelling has a gradual progression for increasing the student’s stamina and fluency in writing, from words and short phrases in Level 1, to phrases and short sentences in Level 2, to 12 dictation sentences per step in Level 3. Partway through Level 3, the Writing Station activity is introduced. In this exercise, students write sentences of their own that they make up using some of their spelling words. In this way students have begun to use words in a more real-world context through dictation and writing, to help them transition to longer writing assignments.

All About Reading and All About Spelling have a one-year guarantee. You can try them, and if for any reason you feel that they aren’t the right match for your child, return them for a full refund.

Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Benita

says:

Hello! My 7y old, rising 1st grader, just finished AAR level 3. She has severe ADHD (combined), mild dyslexia and low processing speed. I made her repeat K (that is why she is a rising 1st grader instead of rising 2nd grader) because by the end of her original K year, she couldn’t recognize most letters of the alphabet, none of the letter sounds, and didn’t even know how to spell her name. Plus, with the pandemic and virtual school only, I thought it would be best to hold her back and tackle the reading part myself. I just didn’t want the problem to compound and snowball.

We have completed the first 3 levels of AAR during the past year and she has made an AMAZING progress. Now she can read level O-P books confidently, with minimal help.

I would like advice on when to start AAS – my first inclination is to start it after we complete the last level of AAR, which we should be done by mid December at the latest.

OTOH, I see you have suggested AAS be taught concomitantly with AAR after the 2nd level.

I just want to know if there are any drawbacks to finishing AAR level 4 before starting AAS for a 7y old child?

And last but not least, I was considering asking (paying) my 6th grader to teach AAS to her little sister. The reason is to make my 6th grader study spelling as well, without even realizing it. She is a great reader/writer (even got into the advanced placement program because of her writing skills), but she has never been formally taught how to spell (or grammar that or matter) since it is no longer taught in our public school. Their answer to grammar, spelling, and reading teachings, it is pretty much consisted of telling kids to read at 20least min per day. I guess they assume kids will learn all they need by osmose….

The result is that, while my 6th grader has excellent writing, vocabulary, and comprehension skills, her spelling is atrocious. More so because nowadays, most of the work is digital and the kids use spell check.

While teaching my youngest your AAR, I have learned A LOT myself. English is not my 1st language and, after this year, a lot of it finally made sense to me…. For example, now I know WHY we say the short sound of A in apple, and the long sound in ape.

I am thinking that if I put my 6th grader to teach my 1st grader AAS, she will learn the material as well. Do you think that is a good idea?

Thanks!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Benita,
Your daughter is doing so well! She went from behind to being advanced in reading in just one year! Keep up the excellent work in that!

As this blog post discusses, the drawbacks of waiting too long to start spelling instruction are the possible need to overcome bad habits and the need for children to be writing for other subjects. However, 7-years-old is still pretty young; many that age are not yet ready to start spelling. While we would typically recommend starting spelling right away, I do think in this case, it will likely be fine to wait until after December to start.

I’m really intrigued about your idea to have your older daughter teach her younger sister. Depending on their personalities and how they get along, it could go very well, or it could be a problem. You would need to keep an ear on how the lessons go, as disputes could hinder learning.

However, I do not think you will find teaching All About Spelling to be as effective in helping your 6th grader as doing her own spelling lessons would be. She will learn the rules and phonograms by teaching the program, and that will help some, but without the practice of spelling words without seeing them first, students who struggle with spelling will not have much improvement. With students who struggle, sometimes it takes a lot of such practice to gain spelling mastery.

If you are concerned about your older daughter’s spelling, I highly recommend using All About Spelling with her directly. Many older students, teens, and even adults have successfully been taught or tutored with All About Spelling. We even have a blog post on Using All About Spelling with Older Students that discusses how to fast track through the lowest levels with an older student.

If you decided to start your older daughter on level 1 now, she will finish it and be in level 2, maybe even finishing that level, by the time your younger daughter finishes All About Reading 4. You could keep teaching your older student her lessons while having her teach your younger child. She would be a more effective teacher then, as she will have been through the material herself, plus it will serve as a more effective review for her.

I hope this helps some. Let me know if you have further questions.

Ashley Trentacosta

says:

My son has just completed all about reading level 1. We’re about to start all about spelling level one. When should he start all about reading level two? Should reading level 2 be done after completing spelling level 1 or can it be done along side Spelling level 1?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Ashley.

Once a child has completed All About Reading level 1, we recommend working in both reading and spelling each day and allow your student to proceed at their own pace in each. So it would be best to go ahead with All About Reading level 2 and All About Spelling level 1.

Let me know if you have further questions or need anything else.

Melinda Alvarez

says:

are the cards the same in both level 1 reading and spelling?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Melinda.

No, the cards for All About Reading and All About Spelling level 1 (and the other levels) are not the same. All About Reading has two types of cards, Phonogram Cards and Word Cards. All About Spelling has four types of cards, Phonogram Cards and Word Cards, plus Sound Cards and Key Cards. Also, there are some differences in the Word Cards between the two. Lastly, the cards are labeled with the number of the lesson it is introduced, which is different between the two programs.

Sofia

says:

If we choose the letter tile app to use with AAS Level 1, do we also need the basic spelling interactive kit, or can we purchase the divider separately and have all we need? Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sofia,
You are correct. You do not need the Spelling Interactive Kit if you will be using the Letter Tile app, but you will need the Spelling Divider Cards, which can be purchased separately. You will also need a box of some sort for storing the spelling cards. We have a Spelling Review Box, but some choose to use something they find elsewhere.

Carolyn

says:

Also, how does the interactive kit compare to the AAR one, which I have?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Carolyn.

The Basic Interactive Kits for reading and spelling are almost identical (these have the letter tiles, magnets, Phonogram Sounds download, and either Reading Divider Cards or Spelling Divider Cards). So, since you already have a reading kit, you would only need one or two components from the Spelling Interactive Kit:

Spelling Divider Cards (These are needed to organize the spelling review cards and they are different than the Reading Divider Cards.)

– Optional: Spelling Review Box (Or you use another card box you find elsewhere.)

Let me know if you have questions or need anything else.

Carolyn

says:

I am just starting homeschooling my 6 and 8 yo., who are doing AAR levels 1 and 3. 8yo has done traditional spelling tests at school and hates spelling. Would I start him at level 1 spelling, and wait with the 6yo until he finishes AAR?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carolyn,
Pretty much, yes. For your child is All About Reading level 1, it would be best to wait until he or she finished that level before beginning All About Spelling.

For your child in All About Reading level 3, you can use our spelling placement test to determine if he or she can skip level 1 of All About Spelling. Most students do need to start with level 1, but occasionally a student can start with level 2.

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.