Do you ever look back on your essays from 1st or 2nd grade and wonder, “How could I have been so bad at spelling?!” Reading the backward S’s and comical misspellings are endearing in retrospect, but when your child is learning how to write, spelling correctly can become more of a concern and less than a fond memory for some parents.
Montessori offers a unique perspective in terms of teaching children to write. Here’s Bobby George at Montessorium, “It’s important to keep in mind that understanding comes before memorization. For this reason, spelling isn’t important at this early, formative stage. It’s most important to help children understand letter sounds, rather than letter names, i.e.: to ‘hear’ the letters, before ‘seeing’ the letters.”
Here are three main reasons why “hearing” letters at an early stage is more important than spelling a word correctly.
- Children will have a deep understanding of the alphabet. By using the phonetic alphabet, children don’t simply memorize the way a word is spelled. They learn to hear individual letter sounds, identify the letter symbol that represents a sound, and put sounds together to build words. It’s one thing to memorize how to spell DOG, but what about DOGSLEDDING or DOGMATIC? If a child is constantly worried about spelling a word correctly, they won’t ever take the leap into really understanding and exploring language.
- Children will be able to learn new words easier. When a child feels comfortable with letter sounds, they will be able to read and write new words faster. Of course, some memorization of outlier words is necessary (words that don’t follow the rules of the phonetic alphabet). Children in the Montessori classroom practice these during work time, they are called Sight Words or Puzzle Words. But in general, when a child doesn’t focus on spelling as the key to writing, they will be more comfortable as more and more words join their growing vocabulary!
- Children will learn spelling through the environment. A common question might be, “Shouldn’t children learn spelling from the start, so they don’t have to relearn?” Of course, every child and family environment is different, so it’s important to do what’s best for your family. But just like children learn spoken language through their environment, so too can a child’s exposure to the written word help them spell correctly. After a child is comfortably writing phonetically (i.e. photo might be foto), you can begin to introduce them to exceptions. For example, a teacher/parent and child might read a children’s book together and run across the word ‘photo.’ The teacher will exclaim, “Oh! Look, this ‘ph’ combination makes the same sound as ‘fff.’ Let’s find some more words when ‘ph’ makes the ‘fff’ sound!”
Reading and writing together with your child as well as noticing interesting words on billboards or at the supermarket all go a long way towards helping your child spell.
While older children may be ready to dedicate time to memorizing spelling in school, a young child just starting out will benefit from a solid understanding of the phonetic alphabet. Don’t worry if photo comes out foto, or brother comes out bruther. The important part is your child is exploring language and establishing a lifelong passion for writing and reading.
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