Trying to teach a young child how to spell is like teaching them how to tie their shoes. They neither see nor care that these basic skills are the building blocks that will help their developing brains connect the dots when they learn other skills. However, there is a method to the madness and you do not have to go mad to get there.
The first thing a young child needs to learn is the alphabet. If the child can not recognize the letters of a word individually, it will severely hinder their chances in spelling and later in reading. Start out with some basic flash cards and start practicing with them. As your child masters recognizing capital letters,start them on recognizing lower case letters as well. With a little practice everyday your child should be recognizing about 90 to 95 per cent of the letters without prompting from you. Once they know the letters in order, mix them up; then move on to mixing capital and lower case letters. Programs such as Hooked on Phonics has been using this basic principal for years.
While your child is mastering the basic skill of recognizing their letters, pick up a Dick and Jane book. Most of the the words in these books are under six letters. Next pick up a pack of flash cards that teach recognition of common words and a pack of cards that teach phonics. Now this next part is a bit difficult because your child is going to be learning and emphasizing several skills at once.
1. Emphasizing letter recognition
2. Understanding that certain letters make certain sounds (or certain sounds at certain times)
3. Understanding that individual letters make up words
4. Recognizing beginning reading words( like, we, look, and, see)
5. Emphasize writing skills as your child learns to write the letters that make up words
As long as you have a guideline, this does not have to be hard. Many kindergarten teachers send home what they call “sight words”, by using what the teacher is providing you can supplement your child’s education at home. You can use these sight words to help your child learn to spell by pointing out the letters and asking your child to name them.
You can also ask your child to write the word. This is challenging because the child has to call the letters up from memory based on the sound of the word. This is where the phonetic education can really pay off. If the child knows most of sounds the letters make, then it helps them to sound out the word and give the best guess as to how to spell it. Start with simple words such as the sight words from school or small words from Dick and Jane.
Most young children have a competitive streak and will like playing games where they can win small prizes. There are several games that can be adapted to teach them how to spell.
Game show-have the “contestants” line up or sit around a table with the person calling out the words standing in front. The person who raises their hand first gets a chance to spell the word. If they get it right then they are awarded points towards the prize. If they do not spell it correctly then another player gets a chance.
Catch- this can be played no matter how big the ball is. Simply toss the ball or bounce the ball to a player and give them a word to spell.
Flashcards-give the child a word and they need to pull out the letters that spell it. This helps to emphasize the visual look of the letters and the resulting word.
There are a variety of fun ways to encourage young children to learn spelling. The great thing is that since young children could really care less about why they need to learn spelling, it negates long complex explanations on the parents part. The beginning of the process is hard, there is no other way to explain that. Children must learn letter recognition and phonetics. Without these important blocks they will not learn to spell much less read.
Encourage young children into a routine that emphasizes practice everyday. Remember that unless you are playing a game they like, young children have the attention span of a knat. So limit practice times to about 30 minuet intervals with a 10 to 20 minuet break. You will need the break just as much as they do.
The biggest way for parents to teach their child to spell is not to loose their cool during the process. At times your child will frustrate you to the point of wanting to pull out your hair; I should know, my oldest (6 year old) is learning spelling now. If you relax and try to make the experience fun your child will readily enjoy learning.