Mom-to-Mom Support/My ten-year-old daughter has a lot of trouble with spelling

My ten-year-old daughter has a lot of trouble with spelling


My daughter is in 4th grade and is 10 years old. She has a lot of trouble with spelling. She was taught in public school to spell words how they sound. She has not moved beyond that now. For example, she would spell “they” as “thay.” There are so many words she misspells all the time. I have started to make a list of the words she misspells and it is getting pretty long. When she does her spelling test she doesn’t remember the words after she has made it past the quiz (next week she won’t remember this week’s spelling words). What should I do? Thank you for your help.

Dear Mom,

How frustrating it must be for both of you that so little spelling instruction was presented in your daughter’s previous school.

Like most texts, the My Catholic Speller series begins with elementary phonics and progresses forward, with review of basic phonics decreasing as the years advance. Therefore, by fourth grade, your daughter has missed three years of phonics instruction!

Thankfully, one of the blessings of homeschooling is that your daughter is free to move at her own pace and, given the opportunity to learn what she has missed, will likely catch up over time.

On first hearing, it may seem a bit much to begin at the beginning, but that is the best way. It is difficult to build on a non-existent foundation!

There are several possibilities from which to choose for remedial instruction. You might want to pick and choose some, or even all, of the following approaches to teach your daughter over the next year or two.

First, it would be a good idea to drop the fourth grade spelling book completely, as she is not yet ready for it.

Next, a child who feels defeated can sometimes benefit by actually teaching others at a very low level. I note that you have a five-year-old; if you are beginning this child in the Little Stories for Little Folks: Catholic Phonics Readers, perhaps your daughter can become an assistant to him or her, using the phonics-based word family cards. She can then move on to the Name Game to help teach the five-year-old, meanwhile learning the same letter sounds and families herself.

Your daughter might be encouraged to use the word families from the Name Game to create 8×11 posters of word families, perhaps decorating the posters with her own illustrations of some of the words listed there, alongside the word family. (For example, cake, bake, rake, with an illustration of a cake and, in big letters, “-ake” at the top of the poster.)

You might present this activity to your daughter from the standpoint that these posters are made for the benefit of the youngest child; but of course, the exposure would help your daughter, too.

It would be best if she did each and every Name Game in the entire series, perhaps three-hole punching the 8×11 posters and saving them in a three-ring notebook. (You might post the first few posters on the wall for a week or two, or as long as the five-year-old is working on those phonics sounds. Then those posters could go into the notebook and be replaced on the wall by the newest posters of phonics word families.)

At the same time, it would be to your daughter’s advantage that she begins instruction with My Very First Catholic Speller, followed by spellers A, B, and C. Yes, that sounds very basic, but that is what your daughter is missing: the basics.

Your daughter will likely find renewed success by starting at a lower level, and may thereby regain a little of her confidence. At first, she may progress fairly quickly, perhaps completing two or three lessons per week. However, it would be best, at the first sign that she isn’t retaining what she has learned, that she slows down to one lesson per week. (For example, if she misses more than two or three words on her spelling test.)

For maximum exposure, you may wish to begin a new lesson by having her read the spelling words to you. Then test her on the list, explaining to her that the test is simply to see which words she needs to practice the most. Then have her write the words in columns, as suggested previously. On Tuesday, she might do the exercises in the book. Test again Wednesday, this time having her write missed words three times. If she is still missing words, discuss the phonics rule or word family on which the lesson focuses. On Thursday, you may want to test again, or perhaps she could practice the words on her own by writing inside boxes or circles that she has drawn with her pretty paper and pens. Then test again Friday. So that she continues to progress, it might be helpful for her to carry over missed words to her next spelling lesson, adding them on at the bottom of the list for practice.

May Our Lord guide and bless you and your family as you homeschool.

Nancy Nicholson

About Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson is one of the founding authors of Catholic Heritage Curricula. Equipped with an abundance of God-given talent, a major in Secondary Education–English, and years of experience homeschooling her own children, she has written over thirty educational titles, beginning with Little Stories for Little Folks. Her unique ability to develop programs and workbooks that “fit” both advanced and struggling students is due to her experience raising children of different ability levels and learning styles: two of her children are developmentally challenged, while another went on to graduate from Harvard and is now a college professor.