Your child probably has a few books that they ask you to read to them over and over again. While re-reading books provides opportunities to help your young reader develop important reading comprehension skills, it can also sneakily improve your child’s spelling skills (but you don’t have to tell them that!).
When reading aloud as a family, early childhood educators stress that the first read should always be for pleasure and about your child engaging with visuals, hearing your tone and expression, listening to how words sound together, and making meaning of the story.
“I like to have my students focus on just enjoying the first time the book is read aloud,” says Lesley Burnap, a second-grade teacher in Massachusetts, adding that she may encourage her students to make predictions about the plot, setting, and characters.
You can then use subsequent readings to follow the five savvy tips below for spelling success.
1. Embark on a Letter Search
To help children ages 5 to 8 work on spelling, encourage them to identify letters in the book's title or search for words that begin with a specific letter on a page, says Burnap. With younger children, point out words that begin with the same letter as their name.
“Preschoolers love learning about their world and their place in it,” says Burnap. “Looking for the first letter of their name, or of someone else’s name in their family, can be a game to gain familiarity with letters in the text.” (Here are guides to what your child will learn in each grade, starting in preschool!)
Try this with: The Word Collector. The extraordinary tale from Peter H. Reynolds is perfect for a letter search because many words throughout the book are emphasized by their size or color, making it easy for kids to find familiar letters. What's more, this perfectly whimsical and inspiring story is about the magic of the words all around us.
2. Show Your Child What a Difference a Letter Can Make
You can also reinforce spelling in children ages 5 to 8 by incorporating rhyme play during read-alouds. Show your child how changing one letter — for instance, the first letter of cat, bat, sat, and hat — has a huge effect on sound and meaning.
This is effective because it engages your child’s senses (both visual and auditory) and shows them the role individual letters play in the formation of words, providing a foundation for strong spelling skills. You can add a tactile element by encouraging your child to trace letters with their finger or by using wipe clean books!
Try this with: How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs? This lovable rhyming book from the How Do Dinosaurs...? series shows your child how changing a letter can change meaning! It is all about how dinosaurs give their dogs a soft rub in the tub. It's about how they throw their dogs a ball, and reward them when they come to their call. It's not only great for teaching spelling skills, but also responsibility.
3. Match Words to Pictures
Connecting printed and spoken words to visuals also helps kids better grasp meaning and context, which will in turn help them become better spellers. “You want children to be able to retell the story using vocabulary from the text, so look for the names of characters or words that you can match with pictures in the book,” says Burnap.
Try this with: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The ultimate practice in pairing descriptive words with images, this classic rhyming book lets children match words on a page with the image they see. It also challenges them to predict what the image on the next page will be, based on the words they see.
4. Give Context to "Mystery" Words
When you come across a word your child doesn’t understand, Burnap suggests giving a simple explanation before continuing to read. Having a children’s dictionary handy can be a great tool for more established readers ages 8 to 10 after story time. Once you finish a read-aloud, ask your child if they’d like to look up a particular new word. If so, discuss the word, its definition, and how it is used within the story (and elsewhere).
Try this with: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Illustrated Edition. This lavishly illustrated edition of the fourth Harry Potter book will teach your child rich new vocabulary like "beadily" and "exasperation" while still capturing and holding their attention with a visual representation of the world of magic and the Triwizard Tournament.
5. Encourage Your Child to Write in Creative Ways
Writing a word is a surefire way for kids to visualize how words are formed and build muscle memory for spelling. Ask them to draw a picture of their favorite character or an event from a story you just read, and to write a caption describing it. This will not only help improve their spelling, but it will also inspire them to think critically about the book's plot.
Try this with: Dog Man #8: Fetch-22. The newest installment of the hilarious Dog Man series will provide plenty of comic-creating inspiration for your kids. In this book, Petey the Cat is out of cat jail and has reevaluated his life, but Li'l Petey is still struggling to find the good in the world. Can Petey and Dog Man stop fighting long enough to put paws together and work as a team?
A note on correcting mistakes:
Try not to be critical when your child makes an error, especially if they’re in preschool. Attempting to spell at this age is a positive sign that they’re developing a sense of letter-sound awareness. Applaud their effort! For older children, help them identify and correct their own mistakes. For example, if your child is having difficulty spelling a word, give them a gentle reminder to sound it out or think of a word they know that sounds the same. If they spell it incorrectly, mention that a little mistake was made and encourage them to find it.
With each subsequent read of a book, use just one of these strategies and see what resonates with your child — and have fun! The most important thing is that your child loves to read, because avid readers are likely to become strong spellers.
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