1,454

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

New Call-to-action

the right time to start spelling pinterest graphic
< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Comment

Christine

says:

You say that a child should have a strong grasp of reading before starting spelling. Do you mean a strong grasp of reading over all or at their grade level?

Merry

says:

Hi Christine,

You want the child to be able to read words such as the ones in AAR 1 with fluency (You can see a listing of these words in the back of the sample Teacher’s Manual: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/content/samples/All_About_Reading_Level1_TM_Sample.pdf). If your child is still working to sound out most of the words or doesn’t know how to read some of them, then you probably want to wait on spelling. Does this help?

Elizabeth

says:

I have a child coming home after her 1st grade in public school. She needs help with her spelling and has not learned any rules for spelling just whole word memorizing. My son is beginning K/1st grade as he is 5 but has been homeschooling and is quite bright. He is already reading basic text. Could I do spelling level 1 with both of them?

Merry

says:

Hi Elizabeth,

Yes, it sounds like you might be able to combine them and do their lessons together.

mandy nihiser

says:

Im afraid my older child will get bored on level one. Any suggestions?

Merry

says:

Hi Mandy,

You don’t have to make your student spell all of the words, just learn the concepts. Marie encourages parents and teachers to “fast track” through the beginning levels if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. Work VERY quickly through lessons where your student knows the words. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught, and then move on.“Fast track” until your student hits words or concepts he doesn’t already know. Here is an example of how you might do that: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/using-all-about-spelling-with-older-students/

It helps some kids understand if you compare to something like a video game or swimming lessons. Even though level 1 of a game or of lessons is easy to do, that doesn’t mean you should jump ahead to level 10. But it does mean that you can go quickly through the earlier levels, learning what you need to know so that when you DO get to the higher levels, you aren’t overwhelmed by having to learn too much at once.

I hope this helps!

Katrina

says:

I would love to try this with my strugling 7 year old. We have redone blends so many times and she is just not getting them when she writes. I need a new plan.

Joy

says:

I’ve heard such great things about AAS and would love to use it for our family!

Lauren Holmes

says:

I have heard such amazing things about this program!

Kathryn G.

says:

Around 2004, DS1, we started reading first, about age 7. It did not go so well (We were not using AAR at that time. It was not yet available). By age 10 or so, we switched over to Spell to Write and Read, which worked much, much better. DS2, age 7 was thrown into the mix at about that time as well. DS3 was started on the SWR flash cards at a very early age, and he memorized most of them without too much trouble. Implementing the full program, however, did not work at all. Early 2011, we were tipped off to the existence of All About Spelling, which was a much better program for my youngest, and he started to show some progress in reading. Eventually, I was able to purchase AAR Level 1, 2, 3 as they became available. We’ve tended to use AAS more than AAR because my youngest is not a huge fan of the readers for AAR (but the drill sheets are okay), preferring the literary efforts of Mary Pope Osborne instead.

Denise

says:

Looking forward to starting AAS this year.

Glenda

says:

This looks great!

Erica

says:

All About Reading Level 1 is going so well, I am feeling encouraged to give All about Spelling a try next.

Stacey

says:

My son struggled with reading until he got glasses at age 8. He is now 9 and going into 4th grade in all areas of work. However, he struggles very much with spelling, I think maybe in part because he did not like reading. What do you recommend?

Many thanks!

Merry

says:

Hi Stacey,

I would go ahead and start him with AAS 1 so he can fill in any gaps with regards to the multiple sounds of the phonograms, segmenting skills, and basic spelling rules: when to use C or K at the beginning of a word, when to use K or CK at the end, when to double F, L, and S at the end of a word, when to use S or ES to make a word plural, and so on. It is important that kids know why words are spelled the way they are. This information applies to more difficult words later in the series.

If he knows how to spell most of the words in level 1, you can fast-track through. Here is an example of how you might do that: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/using-all-about-spelling-with-older-students/

Lauren Plante

says:

My daughter has a good grasp on consonant sounds and blend sounds and their spellings, but she struggles with the vowel sounds. I’m curious to know how your program could help us with that. Thanks.

Merry

says:

Hi Lauren,

Does she struggle with all vowels, or just certain ones? For example, E/I confusion can be common: check out this video that Marie made: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/short-e-short-i-confusion/

These vowel sounds are similar, and in some regions of the country there isn’t a discernible difference in how words like “pin” and “pen” are pronounced.

AAS will have her work on one vowel sound at a time until she masters it, before mixing that sound in with other vowel sounds. This way you will have the opportunity to spend more time on the ones that are particularly difficult for her, and then you’ll be able to see if she’s retaining those long term when the words get mixed in with other word cards, or through the dictations.

Can she pronounce the vowel sounds that she struggles with correctly? If not, I would start there. AAS has phonogram and sound cards so that you can practice having her say just the isolated sound, and also so she can practice hearing the isolated sound and writing it.

If the issue happens with longer words where one vowel sound isn’t clearly pronounced, you might try slowing down how you say it just a bit so that the vowel sound is clearer. Let her know that sometimes when we say a word quickly, the vowel sound gets muffled or changed a bit, so we have to pay extra careful attention to how we say the word. This is especially true with vowels in unaccented syllables—the second I in “pilgrim” often sounds like a short u—“pilgrum.” Drag out the pronunciation just a bit to help her hear it: Pil-GRIM. You may need to really enunciate them, and have her practice “pronouncing for spelling,” in order for her to get them. AAS teaches pronouncing for spelling as a helpful spelling skill in Level 2.

Another idea is to have her watch your mouth as you make them, and to watch herself in the mirror. This part can seem silly or funny, so make sure to have fun playing with sounds as you do it. The mouth should be open taller when she says the short E sound than when she says the short I sound. She could put a hand on your/her chin and see if she can see and/or feel the difference in how these sounds are made. Then if a word is hard, she can use these strategies to help her remember which vowel is used.

With AAS, words continue to be reviewed–she’ll learn them in a list, review them with word cards (which you can use to track what is mastered and what needs ongoing practice) and ongoing review through dictations (words are not just dropped–they will continue to show up from time to time).

When you give her a word to spell, make sure she says it back to you with the correct pronunciation before having her spell the word. If you need to pronounce it for spelling, do so, and have her repeat the pronunciation. (I typically say the word normally, then say I’m going to give them the pronunciaiton for spelling, then have them repeat). When it comes time to do the word cards, say the word normally only, and ask her to pronounce for spelling before trying to spell the word. For words where this is necessary, your child should remember both the pronunciation and the spelling before moving a card to mastered.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

lauren

says:

We love AAS!! starting level 4 this year!

Amy

says:

My child is is a beginning reader; she can read & sound out some basic CVC words and has a kindergarten sight word background. I think adding spelling to her day would be overwhelming for her, but what are some signs that I should be aware of when trying to decide when she is ready?

Merry

says:

Hi Amy,

You want her to be able to read words such as the ones in AAR 1 with fluency (You can see a listing of these words in the back of the sample Teacher’s Manual: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/content/samples/All_About_Reading_Level1_TM_Sample.pdf). If your child is still working to sound out most of the words or doesn’t know how to read some of them, then you probably want to wait on spelling.

Many people also wait until 1st grade with early readers.

Another sign to watch for is her writing readiness–does she know basic letter formation, or does writing letters frustrate her? AAS 1 is easier if the student can write letters.

Finally–follow your mom-instincts. If you think it’s too much right now, then it’s fine to wait. If you decide to try it and decide it’s too much–you can put it up and try again later.

I hope this helps!
Does this help?

Helene

says:

I have heard such wonderful things about your program, I can’t wait to start it with two of my children!

megan noll

says:

My 8 year old daughter is a struggling reader, however, she doesnt have as big of a problem figuring out how to spell. Maybe I should follow your suggestion of teaching spelling first because I fell she has given up on learning to read.

Amy

says:

Looks like a great product to learn to spell!

Jessica

says:

Is there a way to teach multiple kids of different ages at one time, or is it best to use the program one-on-one in a homeschool setting? We used AAR last year- our kids loved the books!

Merry

says:

Hi Jessica,

If you have students who are working at about the same level, you can combine them in a learning group and teach them together. If they are all at very different places, then it’s probably best to teach them separately and work at each student’s pace as you go through the program.

I started mine together (they are 2 years apart) for the first month or so, and then ended up splitting them. Do what works for your family.

Christina

says:

This sounds like it will be a perfect fit for my son. I’m looking forward to trying it out!

Angela Russell

says:

We started spelling in first grade!

Daneale Williams

says:

My oldest started spelling when she was in 1st grade with another program. By the time she started 3rd grade, it was obvious she couldn’t spell at all and was very confused. In 3rd grade is when we started All About Spelling level 1. She is now going into 5th grade, and is in the middle of Level 4 and she is spelling SO much better!

My middle child also started spelling in 1st grade but with AAS level 1. He did okay with it. Then in second grade, he moved to Level 2. Well, half way through 2nd grade it was obvious he couldn’t read and decode words longer than 1 syllables. His spelling had exceeded his reading so we stopped Level 2 at that point and ordered in AAR level 2 and 3. He can now read very well. He will be going into 3rd grade next year and is going to complete Level 2.

My youngest is gifted and advanced. She started spelling when she was in K but had been reading for a few years. She had never had a formal reading program but when I started my son in AAR level 2, she completed both Level 2 and Level 3 AAR with him to make sure that she really understood why words said what they did. And to give her formal phonics. She can read now read 3rd and 4th grade chapter books. She also started spelling when she was 5 years old and completes the spelling lessons with her older brother. When I started my son over with spelling, we started at about the middle of level 1. I had his younger sister join him. Again, since she is more advanced, she had no trouble. They both started Level 2 before our school year ended last year and were only working through some of the review items at the time. So for the next school year, they will restart that level and forge ahead. So my youngest is 6 years old, completing mainly 3rd grade schooling and will be working through Level 2 as well.

Merry

says:

Great post, Daneale, thanks for sharing your journey!

Gwen Tepper

says:

We are looking forward to starting All About Spelling this fall!

Ally

says:

My kids are 3 and 4. I’ve started phonics with the older one (almost 5) and would love to start all about spelling with her soon.

Trish

says:

I would love to try this in my home school.

Christy

says:

This program will help many of the students that I tutor privately.

Sara Reimer

says:

Looking forward to teach my oldest daughter the thrill of reading and spelling!

Karin

says:

Is there a particular magnetic board you recommend? Is it helpful to have one that can be propped upright? If you have multiple students, should each student have his own board and interactive kit? Thanks so much!

Merry

says:

Hi Karin,

We recommend a 2′ X 3′ board so that you have room for all of the tiles (there are a lot by Level 7) and also have room to build words. Some people hang their board on a wall, some prop it up, and some lay it on a table or even the floor–think about what might be most comfortable for you and your family.

You don’t have to have a separate board for each child. If one child is ahead of another, put the extra tiles that only the one uses across the bottom, so they are in a visually different place and the other child won’t be confused by them.

It’s helpful for each student to have his or her own student packet. You won’t need complete interactive kits for each one, but you will want divider cards and a storage box (ours or one you provide) for the cards for each student.

I hope this helps!

Carolyn Bowen

says:

You say to introduce spelling when they have a strong start in reading. What reading level would you say is a ‘strong start’?

Merry

says:

Hi Carolyn,

Hi Christine,

You want the child to be able to read words such as the ones in AAR 1 with fluency (You can see a listing of these words in the back of the sample Teacher’s Manual: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/content/samples/All_About_Reading_Level1_TM_Sample.pdf). If your child is still working to sound out most of the words or doesn’t know how to read some of them, then you probably want to wait on spelling. Does this help?

Andreia Grilo

says:

I am an ESL teacher/tutor and even though teaching English as a second language this program is absolutely wonderful! I would enjoy working with this material with my students. Furthermore, as it is a second language, I have already analyzed the material and I can use it with students at any age! Great!

Pamela

says:

Hi. Do you recommend All about Spelling for a 6th grader that is still struggling with spelling? Thank you.

Merry

says:

Hi Pamela,

Yes we do. We’ve even had teens and adults use the program. You might like to read the article: Which Level Should My Older Student Start With? http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/which-level-should-my-older-student-start-with

This blog entry demonstrates how I used the program with my 15-year-old son: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/all-about-spelling-in-action-2/

Marie used these same methods for tutoring teens and adults as well. You have to be willing to adjust the first few levels to their needs because the words are very easy to start, but many students have not learned the concepts behind them, and these are crucial for success throughout the program.

Leave a Comment