Wanting to Learn How to Spell



Gemma-Rose isn’t a defiant child so when she said to me, “You can’t make me learn anything I don’t want to learn,” I stopped and listened.

We were talking about spelling. Did Gemma-Rose want me to enrol her in an online spelling program?

“No thank you, Mum.”

“Well, how will you learn how to spell?”

“I’ll pick it up as I go along,” she answered confidently.

“But wouldn’t it be easier to do a proper program. Don’t you think it’s a fun way to learn spelling?”

“Not really.  And if I don’t want to do it, I won’t learn, so it’s a waste of time.”

I didn’t enrol Gemma-Rose in a spelling program. She is going to pick it up as she goes along.


Actually, all my other children have also picked up spelling as they’ve gone along: I answered their spelling questions, and pointed out a few patterns here and there, and they learnt some words on their own because they liked them. And they’re all good spellers. I don’t know why I was distracted with the idea of an online website. New things come along and sometimes they are worthy of consideration. We try them out and then return to what we know works for us.

We are reading Anne of Green Gables. Gemma-Rose is sitting on the edge of her seat, her whole body quivering with enjoyment. As I read Anne’s long speeches, Gemma-Rose’s face lights up and she can’t resist interrupting: “Anne is such a chatter box!” Every now and then she asks me a question: “What’s an alabaster brow, Mum?… alabaster… alabaster…” Gemma-Rose rolls the word off her tongue, delighting in the sound. When we come to the word ‘excruciatingly’ she is absolutely delighted. She repeats this word a few times too, asks me its meaning and wonders when she can use the word herself.

A few days pass and Gemma-Rose appears and announces: “When I fell over when we went running this morning, it was excruciatingly painful!” A huge grin spreads over her face and then she adds, “It didn’t hurt that much really but I wanted to use ‘excruciatingly’. Isn’t it a wonderful word?”

A few more days pass and Gemma-Rose asks me: “Do you think you could write me a list of spelling words? I want some nice long interesting ones like ‘excruciatingly’ and ‘Australia’. If I could spell them I could use them in my stories.” I write her a list of interesting words.

For the last couple of weeks, Gemma-Rose has been writing a stage play for the Script Frenzy Challenge. I registered her for the scriptwriting program Celtx and every day she has been working by herself, writing page after page of script.

“Do you want to read what I have written so far, Mum?”

I glance over Gemma-Rose’s shoulder and I am surprised. I can read everything she’s written and most of it is spelt correctly. And it hasn’t even been through the spellchecker.

I come to the conclusion that there’s more than one way to learn spelling. The picking-it-up-as you-go-along method is working for Gemma-Rose. She wants to learn the spelling of the words she wants to use.

Now I have to admit that one of my children was not a good speller. I tried organised spelling lists and phonics based spelling and still he spelt things his own way. I talked this ‘problem’ over with an educational representative who reassured me that many very intelligent people cannot spell. Many are so successive in their fields, they can employ someone to spell for them. Or they use spellchecker. So I stopped worrying. I did however notice something very interesting. When that child started participating in online university discussion boards his spelling miraculously underwent a transformation. Almost overnight he could spell. I guess it comes back to need.

The other day Andy texted me while we were driving. Imogen read out the message: “Tonight’s parish council meeting has been cancelled.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Now we don’t have to hurry home from our day out at camp.”

Imogen texted Andy: “Mum says exellent.”

The reply came instantly back: “You missed out the ‘c’ in excellent.”

“Dad! You can tell he’s a school teacher,” groaned Imogen. “It was only a text message. I do really know how to spell.”

And Gemma-Rose will know how to spell soon too, not because she’s using a fabulous spelling program, but because she wants to learn.


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