How Do I Know If My Child’s Spelling is on Grade Level?

A common question I would get as a K-3 teacher was the question of whether or not a child’s spelling was ‘okay.’ Parents often expressed concerns that their child’s attempts to represent the spoken word had too many spelling mistakes and that their spelling didn’t follow the conventional rules.

Children’s spelling develops along a continuum, just as in most any area of development. Their ability to apply phonetic knowledge to writing is based on a couple of things: their knowledge of phonics and of the phonetic principle.

While knowledge of phonics is based on which phonetic sounds and combinations the child has been exposed to through instruction and exposure to reading, the phonetic principle is understanding the letter to sound correlation and the ability to use this understanding to represent sound. This skill starts long before most realize it as young children play with language through rhymes, silly songs, and sound manipulation (Danny Danny Bo-Banny, anyone?) So when a child identifies the “sh” sound and identifies the two letters that make that sound and know where to place it in the word, that is the phonetic principle at work.

As a teacher of young children, I reveled in their invented spelling. I lovingly referred to it as “inventese” and I delighted in it! As a teaching PRACTITIONER, it gave me the inside scoop on which sound students not only recognized but could actually apply to their spelling. Many parents worry about their child’s invented spelling, worried that they will get “stuck” that way or that it represents that they are “behind.” The truth of the matter is that spelling that is on grade level only requires a student to apply the sounds they’ve been taught up to that time in the school year. In other words, if the digraphs such as /sh/, /ch/, /th/, etc. have not yet been taught yet, then if they do not use them in their spelling, they are not behind.

So, what’s a parent to do? Well, the first tip is to let yourself off the hook as your child’s dictionary. If they haven’t yet learned about the silent e at the end of the word, don’t jump in and correct them. Enjoy the “inventese”, it won’t last long. Typically, by third grade it begins to fade more and more through exposure to text and phonetic mastery.

If you are unsure of what sounds have been taught, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher to clarify where they are at with phonics in the curriculum and ask which sounds they’ve already learned. This will help you see which sounds your child has truly grasped.

Families are a child’s first teachers. When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

If you would like more guidance from the perspective of an expert in curriculum and instruction, email me at it be conducting parent sessions for a school or one on one consultation appointments, I’m here to serve your needs to help your child grow in learning.

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