Whether your child is an excellent speller, a bad speller, or hasn’t started learning to spell, it’s important to remember that everyone learns to read and spell at their own pace, and that learning to spell is a complex process.
There are a range of pre-spelling skills that kids need to master before they can start spelling, which includes phonetic awareness and being able to make the sounds that letters of the alphabet represent.
Spelling abilities of children differ depending on their age. Some kids are natural spellers, while others struggle and may have learning disabilities that affect spelling, such as dyslexia.
There are, however, specific spelling milestones that correspond with school curriculums for each age group. Regular educational assessments help identify any problems with spelling and learning disorders at a young age so that those can be adequately addressed.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss when kids should learn to spell, as well as some fun tips to make spelling practice more engaging.
How Kids Learn To Spell: The Stages of Phonetic Awareness and Spelling
Being aware of how children learn to spell helps us understand the answer to the question, “When should kids learn to spell? Essentially, learning to spell is a process that starts with being able to read and decode words and lots of practice and memorization.
From about the age of two, children start talking more and learning about language. Up until they are about five years old, children are gaining emerging skills that assist with spelling. Kids start learning the sounds certain letters of the alphabet make by themselves and in conjunction with other letters.
By practicing these sounds, and being exposed to simple and high frequency words, children will begin to decode words. This skill will help them in the journey learning to read and spell.
Kids are usually first taught the phonetic sounds (or letter sounds) as they learn the alphabet. This includes learning how to phonetically spell out combinations of letters to read whole words.
At the same time, kids start learning basic writing skills and how to write letters of the alphabet. As children get better at recognizing these blended letter sounds, they begin to learn individual words, some of which they can decipher using phonetic awareness skills – but some will need to be memorized as sight words.
As children’s reading skills improve, they also start learning how to spell simple and high frequency words. They will typically be asked to learn words from spelling lists and then write down these words on a piece of paper so that they practice and remember how to spell individual words.
When Should Kids Learn To Spell?
There are various stages of spelling development as outlined above and each stage takes place at a different age. It’s important to note that all children develop differently and some children may be quite advanced spellers while others may take longer to learn spelling rules and to recognize spelling patterns.
The acquisition of spelling skills is a long process and depends somewhat on a child’s exposure and alertness to language.
From the ages of two until they are five, kids start developing pre-reading skills and start being able to read letters and some letter blends like ‘ar’ or ‘bl’. At this stage, they also start to realize that letters correspond to specific phonetic sounds.
From around five to seven years old, children typically become well versed in reading and writing all of the letters of the alphabet and in knowing letter combination blends. They also begin learning the sequences of letters as well as beginner spelling rules. At this age kids generally decode words phonetically and can spell the days of the week and sound out the letters of the alphabet.
From around age seven to nine, children begin decoding and encoding word patterns and by age nine children typically start learning about syllables and how different affixes can change a word.
Tips to Help Your Child Excel at Spelling
When a child is learning to read and write (and to spell), it’s important that they are exposed to books and the spoken language, and that they practice their spelling regularly. Making that a fun experience helps to get kids excited to practice their spelling.
Here are some simple tips for young children learning to spell:
Make Spelling Practice Fun
Kids are usually far more willing to learn spelling when it’s fun and interactive. Try getting your child to spell out letters using fun mediums like chalk on floors, shaving cream on tables, or even making an ‘a’ or ‘b’ from candies.
Write the Words Out
Spelling is a skill that is reinforced with practice. By writing out words, kids can more easily memorize the spelling of these words. Some children struggle with writing, in which case they could use a keyboard to type the words instead or they can spell the words out aloud.
At home you can stick up words all over the house on everyday items like the stove, fridge, tv or doors. This helps kids to visually practice their reading and spelling skills without really being aware that they’re doing work.
When children read more, they see the correct spelling of words more often and eventually this forms part of their long-term memory. It’s good to read stories that are age-appropriate and you can repeat words they are learning at school.
Play Spelling Games
There are lots of fun games that incorporate spelling: scrabble, word searches, crossword puzzles and games like word bingo. This gets kids to practice spelling and accuracy and makes it a fun and engaging process.
Play Rhyming Games
Playing games that encourage children to rhyme also helps build their phonological awareness which helps with spelling. You can get them to spell out words that rhyme like “hat”, “bat”, “sat” etc. so that they can figure out for themselves the spelling rules of similar sounding words.
Start with Phonetic Spelling and Then Teach Kids to See Chunks
It’s usually easiest for kids to learn the letters of the alphabetic phonetically and then to read words using phonetic spelling. After a while, kids will learn to see chunks in words and then to combine those chunks to read bigger words all in one go.
Help your Child Learn the Rules of Spelling
There are lots of spelling rules which you can make kids aware of to help them learn words that are tricky to spell. This includes things like pointing out that certain words have a silent ‘e’ on the end or that you always use an ‘i’ before an ‘e’ except after a ‘c’ (although there are also exceptions to that rule).
What to do if Your Child Struggles with Spelling
The English language can be complex and learning to spell can be a tedious process. Many children and adults struggle with spelling and that’s probably why there are so many spelling-checking apps and tools on the market.
While spelling can be tricky, it’s important to be aware of when kids should be learning to spell so that learning difficulties related to language development, reading, and writing can be identified.
With students progressing at different rates in terms of reading skills, reading levels, and general child development milestones experts can help in identifying serious learning difficulties and disabilities related to spelling such as dyslexia. If your child has a learning disability, additional strategies to help the child deal with or address them can be utuilized at home and at school.
Identifying learning difficulties at an early stage is important to help children receive the correct interventions. That’s why regular assessments are important – as are hearing and vision checks to rule out other causes of possible poor spelling like poor eyesight or difficulty hearing.
Final Thoughts on Learning to Spell
Spelling involves phonological awareness, learning common spelling rules, and lots of practice and repetition. It’s important to ensure that spelling practice and reading is part of a child’s daily routine when they are learning these skills. Some children will start to learn to read, write and spell at a younger age than average, and some at an older age than average.
If your child is struggling to read, then you may want to have their eyes and hearing checked and to speak with your child’s teachers to see whether any other assessments are necessary.
You can help your child improve their spelling by playing spelling games, making reading and spelling part of everyday life and helping them with their schoolwork to see how their spelling is developing. Who knows, your spelling might improve too!