Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Creative Spelling Is Not Wrong

In educational and homeschooling circles, there can be some pretty heated debate on the topic of creative spelling. ("Creative spelling" is allowing a child who is just learning to write/read to spell things how they think they might be spelled and not correct them.)

Here's what I love about creative spelling:

1. It allows for independent writing. My six-year-old can experiment with writing, making lists and maps and messages used in her various imaginative games, without needing to ask me "how do I spell...?" This gives her a real sense of ownership, making words and letters tools of play and not just school.

2. It gives my student a chance to demonstrate her understanding of the phonics rules we've learned so far. Trying to sound out a long word and write down the sounds she hears is a fabulous mental exercise, and tells me which rules need review and which have been mastered.

3. It provides an accurate snapshot of where she is with her language skills. When I look back at a paper from two months ago and compare it to today's, I can really see how much her facility with words has grown.

Six-year-old's creative spelling of "inspector"

Now, to be clear, I do espouse a lot of the principles of classical education, and our homeschool curriculum looks more classical than anything else. And classical education does tend to discourage creative spelling, from what I've seen. I understand the reasoning behind it -- if mistakes are not corrected, the student starts to think that their "creative" spellings are the real spellings and that can be a bear to correct down the line.

We address that concern in several ways:

1. We learn phonics and spelling rules, so that over time those rules are incorporated into the creatively spelled words. It turns out that there are very few true exceptions to phonics rules, as long as you learn all of them, so eventually you will have the tools to correctly spell just about any word without ever having memorized a sight word.

2. We read a lot. For the typical non-dyslexic student, the best way to teach spelling is to read read read read read. Having seen the word correctly spelled a zillion times, the child inadvertently memorizes it (again, without flash cards or conscious memorizing) and can recall it at will.

3. We do practice writing every week, both in copywork and in our weekly letter to a friend or family member, that does use only correct spelling.

I am a vigilant defender of correct spelling and grammar. And I do strongly believe that children need to learn the right way to write and speak if they are to be taken seriously as adults. But along the path to that ultimate goal, creative spelling does have an important place.