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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!

boy working on spelling with letter tiles

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.)

4 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. woman teaching girl with word cards
  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.

  5. Young hands may not be developmentally ready for a lot of writing.

    Before the age of 6 or 7, the bones in a child’s hands are not fully developed. The physical act of writing with narrow pencils can put too much strain on little hands. It’s fine if young children want to do some writing, but we recommend not requiring prolonged writing before this age.

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.

overhead shot of girl working on spelling

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.

older girl learning with letter tiles

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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McKenzie Campbell

says:

I am so excited to start this spelling curriculum with my daughter with dyslexia! We were both discouraged with previous struggles but looking forward to taking a step back and resetting! Can’t wait to see her blossom!

Heather

says:

Great, looks like it’s time to start spelling!

Tina

says:

I really enjoyed reading this article. It helped me understand why my oldest learned to spell before he really knew how to read. It was just his way. However, my youngest is struggling but is not at all the same. I now have a better idea of when to introduce him to spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tina,
Isn’t it wonderful how people learn the same things so differently? Uniqueness is so interesting!

Heather

says:

My oldest child really struggled with reading. He is just now becoming independent enough to read small books alone. I just ordered AAS 1. I think he is ready. :D

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

If you have any questions as you begin All About Spelling, just ask, Heather!

Megan

says:

I’m glad I found this article when I did. My child is at the perfect age to begin spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad you found this, Megan. Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else.

Paula Rodillo

says:

I am wondering if I am doing enough and if all about spelling can help with that. I heard so many great things about it.

Jodi

says:

Just had a discussion with someone this week about this same topic! Thank you for the clarification!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jodi. I’m glad this was helpful.

Amanda Kirby

says:

My daughter really wanted to start spelling (she saw her cousin practicing spelling words). We were still finishing up AAR 1, and I told her as soon as she finished level 1 and moved to level 2 we would start spelling lessons (AAS 1). Well, that certainly motivated her! Now she is confidently doing spelling lessons and flying through them. The phonics based approach to spelling, rather than the seemingly random spelling lists her cousin has, makes so much sense after using AAR for her reading, and her success is doing wonders for her confidence. We love this program and recommend it to our homeschooling friends, as well as public school friends whose children are struggling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear your daughter is doing well with All About Spelling after the foundation All About Reading level 1 provided! Thank you for sharing, Amanda!

Katie

says:

Having a child that struggles with neurodiversity, I find that it is good to “test the waters” multiple times a year with different concepts to see how his readiness is. Decoding (reading) has been tough for him, but encoding has actually helped his reading skills! AAR is the first curriculum that has worked for him.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that All About Reading is helping your child, Katie! I love your “test the waters” suggestions as well. Thank you.

Cassie Davidson

says:

When we began homeschooling years ago, we pulled out our 2nd grader and 7th grader from public school. Spelling was such a challenge! AAS was a game changer for us – my oldest breezed through the first few levels, but I’m so glad we started him at the earlier levels to improve incrementally. Even my husband would come in during lessons and be floored by the basic rules taught in the material, saying he never realized and never learned them! Thank you, thank you for this incredible product and tool to help our families! Now that I have a Kindergartener and 1st grader in the mix, I wasn’t sure when to start them on spelling – this article was EXACTLY what I was looking for. And the best part? I didn’t have to search the internet – I knew I could just come check out the blog at AAL! I know homeschoolers all have different styles and methods, and children have different ways of learning, but I’m so grateful to have found All About Learning – truly, these are such a help in our home.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing how All About Spelling helped your older student, Cassie! And I know what your husband meant about those basic rules never being taught!

If you ever find you have a question, just ask! If it’s on our blog, we can point you to it, and if it’s not on the blog we are happy to answer it otherwise! It’s what we are here for!

Katie H.

says:

I like the idea of waiting to start spelling until they have a basic understanding of reading. It was an interesting point that a handful of kids learn better by starting with spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, it is interesting, Katie. I love learning how people learn and the differences they can have!

Tonja Henson

says:

We started AAS after completing level 1 of AAR. I love that the lessons complement each other as we go along! My daughter just turned 12 and has Auditory Processing Disorder and Dyslexia. We take it nice and slow to make sure the understanding is there before moving forward. I am forever grateful for this program and where it has taken her academically.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that All About Reading and All About Spelling have helped your daughter have success with reading and spelling, Tonja! Thank you for letting us know. Keep up the amazing work!

Joy Hanchett

says:

This is great info. I tried to start teaching spelling to my daughter too early, and now I see why that didn’t work! She just finished AAR level one and is off to a great start in AAS level one this time around.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear that All About Spelling is working out well for your daughter now that she has finished All About Reading Level 1. Thank you for sharing, Joy!

Kaeli

says:

Love this! Makes so much sense to wait until they have a strong foundation in reading. Waited to start AAS until my son finished AAR1 and he is doing amazing with spelling!

Lisa

says:

I was just wondering if I should start with my kinder student – now I know to wait! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was able to answer your question, Lisa. You’re welcome.

Brent B.

says:

Great info! Just learned about you through a random Google search.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Brent.

J

says:

We love your spelling program

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you!

Lisa Sherrill

says:

I have a first grader and this is one area we’ve been struggling a bit so this is helpful. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lisa. If you have additional questions or concerns, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Michelle Couch

says:

I have an older student that needs help with Spelling. Do you have a placement test?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Michelle,
Yes, we have a Spelling Placement Test. And you also may find our Using All About Spelling with Older Students article helpful as well.

Elen Granero

says:

Very interesting. I’m wondering if this is suitable to English as a second language

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Elen,
Our materials have been used very successfully for teaching read and spelling English as a second language. However, the programs assume students are already comfortable speaking and conversing in English. The materials are not set up to teach students to speak and understand oral English.

You may find our English Language Learners blog post helpful.

Katie

says:

My children are students at a small, one-room school. 18 students in K-8th grade. I am a part-time teacher, homeschool mom (to my first grader, and formerly homeschooled my seventh grader, fifth grader, and third grader), and an aide at the school. We want to move to AAS and AAR in our school. Do think it is possible to teach to multiple students? I am envisioning the main teacher using just a few levels of each. Perhaps our K-2 students will be divided into two to three groups in AAR based on ability (from the placement tests). Then our 1st/2nd graders through 8th graders will be split into about four groups. All of them will start at AAS Level 1 but the more advanced students will progress more quickly. The four groups will therefore advance at their own pace within their groups. Does this sound crazy? Do you think we can do it successfully and serve our learners?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katie,
I think you have a good handle on how All About Reading and All About Spelling can work in a mixed classroom like your school!

If you haven’t seen it already, please check out our 12 Reasons Teachers Love All About Reading and All About Spelling article. It includes downloadable assessment forms that I think your school will find helpful.

If you have additional questions about how to proceed, what to order, or anything else, please email us at [email protected].

ARM

says:

I teach them to read by Phonics at 5 years old first. I start them spelling as soon as they are 5 years old AND right after they have their first practice list of short “a” words . So it’s phonics first, the 26 sounds, then the consonant digraphs, ch sh th wh,which enables them to read and sound out words easily. After they read their first practice list of short “a” words, they have a spelling test on at least 10 of those short “a” words. We then move on to short “e” words then on to the rest of the vowels. They all almost always get 90 to 100 percent of the words correct. This is after 30-40 days. I agree with you that reading should come first!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing!

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.