homeschool spelling

Homeschool Spelling

Not everyone studies spelling as a separate subject. As a rule, I prefer integrated studies, and I like them to come up in a natural way. We haven’t had a lot of success with me “staging” scenarios where the kids study a topic and then we write about it, study vocabulary from it, learn math skills through it… Yes, this works for lots of folks, but it hasn’t worked out in a straightforward way for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I do seize a teachable moment. For the time being, our three boys are extremely enamored with a science class they are taking, and are writing without whining voluntarily and happily, so I’ve been making sure they get that writing done (and conveniently forgetting any other writing assignments for the time being). And we are always discussing new vocabulary – how to infer meaning from context, and considering what the same term means when presented in different contexts… Since we walk around town, we have lots of opportunities to chat these things through… Without, you know, having a lesson about them.  😉

Spelling, however, turned out to be a different issue for us. It became clear fairly early on that all of our boys have benefited from a separate, course in homeschool spelling. We started with – and continue to use – a 19th century spelling text. Really.

Why? Because it works for us.

Yes I have to make adjustments. Yes, there are some archaic words, although not as many as you’d expect. Some of them we skip, some of which we still learn because (while they aren’t common in spoken language) they come up in literature.

But the main reason it works for us is because of how it approaches spelling rules.

Yes, Virginia, English does have spelling rules. They are legion, but they are there.

Over the eight years we’ve been using this book, I’ve been tickled to see the same word come up in multiple lists (because different parts of the word illustrate different spelling rules). Sometimes lists are short (really short, perhaps only a dozen), and sometimes they’re pretty long (it’s not uncommon to have 44 words in a list). Forty-four words! Sounds horrific! Not really — the book builds up to that, and when you get there, remember, every word in the list is illustrating a rule. The first lists include only simple, three letter words with short vowel sounds and no consonant blends – very simply phonic (and a perfect fit for things like the BOB Books). And they aren’t long lists… In the beginning. Remember, we’ve been using this book for eight years. I have found that, with our boys, even with the really long lists, there will generally only be two or three words they get wrong at the beginning of learning a list – because they are applying the rule.

The only real obstacle I’ve had to overcome is that this is a book of lists… Not a book with exercises. Up until my boys were about eight years old, I used a free spelling website. I could enter my own lists, and print study sheets, handwriting pages, and a few puzzles. It wasn’t a great fit, though. The puzzles wouldn’t always include every word on the list (so, you know, not really practicing the list). Some puzzles weren’t available offline (believe it or not, we’re not online ALL the time…). But the really big obstacle was the limitation on list size. For a while, I broke long lists in half, but really… It’s one thing to split a list because my kid needs to work on one a portion at a time… It’s another thing to do it because the site just cannot accommodate a list as long as we have to study. There was a paid version of that site, but it only allowed access to more types of games. The list size limit was really the killer.

73f71ea92b4464f0a8aaa60fea699321cdfe1b2dFor that reason, I was a little hesitant when I learned about SpellingClassroom.com. Not that I thought it would be a bad site… I just wasn’t convinced it would be a good option for us.

We’ve been using it steadily for two weeks straight, and I will say, this has turned out to be a great homeschool spelling resource for our family.

Pros:

  • No limit on the number of words I can put in a list (at least, not so far)
  • Great learning sequences. Other sites I’ve looked at offer games from which the students can choose. This site also has games, but;
    • Some games are sequenced. Your student follows a series of activities in order, and in the process learns both the spelling and the definitions of the words
    • e8755bc8f8799fb26da5816adbb27eac40e1ccb3Sound and sentences are a vital part of the activities. This is great because our lists often contain homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). Hearing the word isn’t enough to know how to spell it, but students have to the ability to hear a word used in a sentence, and can have the system repeat the word or sentence (as needed) by clicking on a button.
    • Other games are also available. My boys tell me these have nothing to do with learning… But are just for fun. (Right. You keep thinkin’ that, boys.) Actually, the games can only be played by spending coins, and coins can only be acquired through the successful completion of learning activities. Maybe that’s part of their motivation…
  • Regarding the sequence of activities: If your child can benefit from being shown the “path” to study, you may find this to be a great help. Our oldest has been a self-starter, always, when it comes to spelling. He simply has a clear understanding of how he can (effectively) study spelling independently. My second son doesn’t. He just doesn’t. The best he can come up with is to just write his list over and over and over… Which, YES, I suppose he will eventually learn the words. There are lots of reasons I don’t think this is a great approach – not the least of which is that he could end up spending an hour a day just writing. I don’t think this is a bad strategy for him to come up with, but I do think it’s not good for this to be his only approach. The games in SpellingClassroom.com are repetitive enough for him to have plenty of practice, varied enough to keep his interest, and sequenced to increase the challenge as he goes along. Your student doesn’t have to do every activity in the sequence – my oldest could probably skip a few and do fine. But it’s an enjoyable help for a learner like my second son.
  • Included quizzes and tests, for both spelling and vocabulary.
  • Great report options. When I click to see a report, I get an easy-to-read table, with all my students listed, their raw scores, and exactly which words they missed (if any).
  • The kids really like it, and are willingly spending more time on spelling than they ever have before. In the past, they have studied as much as they needed to do well on a test… And no more. Now, I’m the one setting a time limit on how much time you get to spend on spelling. (Seriously)
  • You do NOT need to have your own spelling curriculum (like we do).  SpellingClassroom.com provides lists. Lists are graded, but I have found my boys are going through lists much faster than they did before we started using the site… So I’m thinking “graded” might end up being a relative term. This is one of those places where it’s nice to so easily customize to your family – you can easily let your student work “ahead,” or just take a break from spelling for a while.
  • If you DO have your own curriculum, you can quickly and easily enter your own words and save your lists in the system.

Cons:

  • You cannot add new words. You can create new LISTS, but the words you enter must be recognized by the SpellingClassroom.com system. When you go to save your list, if a word is not in the database, you will be notified. You have the option to use a different form of the word, or simply delete it from the list. I mentioned earlier that our spelling text contains archaic terms, and I was fully prepared for those words to  be rejected. I was delighted to discover that quite a few words I consider archaic were accepted, and surprised to find other words that I consider to be fairly common were not. For example, the word roe (meaning fish eggs) was not in the system, and we could not use it in that spelling list. I will say this: most words that were rejected, another form of the word was in the database, and I could substitute it. Since our word lists are all based around spelling rules (and not definitions), this serves the same purpose. I will say, by far, the vast majority of our words have been in the system (even words like catarrh, gneiss, and hecatomb).
  • Keeping tabs on the kids is different. I’ve spent eight years knowing pretty much every day exactly what each boy is doing for spelling. SpellingClassroom.com allows them to work at their own pace, so they have been doing just that. I have found that I am learning anew about their pace – they simply aren’t working at the same rate I have gotten used to. (The good news is that the reports lets me quickly check up on all of them at once.)
  • Not all games worked for us on mobile. There’s an app, and I downloaded it for my iPad. We found that some activities just wouldn’t run on iOS. We had the same experience whether we tried in the app or through Safari. This probably is different if you are on Android. I will say we had NO problem running any and all activities on our computers (we have both Windows and Apple machines). UPDATE: Spelling classroom has just released their OWN app on itunes (check it out by clicking here)  This should take care of any previous problems with activity conflicts. 
  • It’s not free. Sorry, it’s not. If you’re like our family, you’re on a budget. I try to be very careful about our homeschool expenditures. The simple fact is that we do not have unlimited funds, and I want the ones we have to go as far as possible, to the best benefit of as many as possible.

In our case, I believe we will continue our (paid) subscription next year. Of course, we shall see how the boys continue to do using the system, but I’ll be honest. They’re learning (and retaining) in less time.  And I’m spending less time on their spelling, too. It’s almost like having a really great spelling tutor – one who shows your child’s all the steps so s/he can take care of the learning him or herself – but really, really inexpensive.  There’s a monthly option at $5.99, but if you pay annually, the subscription is less than $30 for up to five students (about $2.49 per month). In my book, with our experience, that makes SpellingClassroom.com a bargain.

Now, for the extras….

homeschool spellingThere’s a LOT more to SpellingClassroom.com than just spelling. Seriously. There are worksheets you can print, including handwriting worksheets. Plus, there is an entire set of online interactive and printable novel studies. Click here to see all the titles available. Links are provided to each novel (or, you could, you know, check your library… Remember the budget?), and there are tons of activities specific to each title. We haven’t had a chance to try any of these yet, but believe me, they’re on the list. This may be a great way for us to break up some slow periods or fill in long summer or winter breaks… Not sure yet, but I can say we will definitely be checking these out.

Still not sure? There’s a 14-day free trial period. Go head over, check it out, sign up, enter a list… And let your kid have at it. Click here to get started.

But there’s more! I was just contacted by SpellingClassroom with another update – they’re releasing a free, limited vera of their service in the next couple weeks. This version of the site will be a bare bones, no premium features version (no login, no record keeping, no custom lists). Personally, I wouldn’t use something for long term withouot built in record keeping, but I can totally see where this will be a great place for kids to have fun (while getting in some sneaky learning!). It could also be a good place to check and see if your children enjoy the platform. Check back here for more updates!

 

This is a sponsored post. I was provided with a full annual subscription,
which I used for evaluation and review purposes.
Any and all opinions expressed here are my own.