How to improve your kids' spelling and why it's so important.

There are plenty of spelling tests at school to study for. For example, this year our girls both have Naplan tests (standardised national testing here in Australia) which has a spelling component.  However, spelling is not just something that needs to be practised and learned for tests it is a core skill that I believe is important for all kids to work on and become proficient in.

Our experience

Our eldest daughter is very good at spelling, and when she was younger, we used to play lots of spelling games with her (at her request) and I was always amazed at what she could spell in her head (I needed a pen and paper to check some longer words!). 

 However - I have to admit we stopped playing these games, believing that she could spell really well so there's no need to do extra work on that.  WRONG!

I think one of the reasons she was such a good speller was because off the endless spelling games we played. She really enjoyed these games and was constantly practising. Once we stopped playing these games, her skills weren't as sharp thanks to lack of practise!

Then one year when she brought home her school work, I noticed several spelling mistakes (that sadly hadn't been corrected by her teacher).  It made me realise that skills aren't necessarily something that you learn, master and then have for life without practising at all!

This made me think of the phrase - "It's like riding a bike" - meaning once you learn how to ride a bike - you never forget.  Even with this, if you've gone years without riding a bike you might find (as I did) that getting back on and riding needs a little practise initially to 'remember' this skill and be able to do it competently again!  Yes the knowledge is there, but it may be a little rusty!

Why is good spelling so important?

Even though a lot of school work and indeed writing in daily life is on some form of computer or tablet where a spell check is readily available, this should not be relied upon. 
  • Spell checks are not always accurate. Some words may not be known to the computer's dictionary - names for example. Or some words can be erroneously corrected to another word with a completely different meaning.
  •  Poor spelling really stands out in written work. Writing reports, essays and stories is something that students have to do more and more as they progress through school and indeed on to University then job applications. Not every situation allows for writing to be done on a computer. I believe good spelling is a necessity.
A good foundation in spelling will stand kids in good stead for future years through their schooling and on to job applications and working life.

How to improve spelling skills

Spelling is a part of reading and writing, and both of those skills should be practised by kids on a daily basis which will in turn help their spelling thanks to the repetition of words they read and write.

Focused spelling practice doesn't have to be boring repetition. Games and puzzles are a great way to practice and improve spelling skills. Wordsearches, Crossword puzzles and Hangman are easy examples.
There are also plenty of great on-line spelling games for kids. One site we've used lots and our girl's school also used for homework is which has plenty of fun ways for kids to practice their spelling. You can create a free account and put in their school spelling lists too so the games are played using specific words they need to practice.

One game our girls invented on holiday during meal times was the colour spelling game. One person says a colour and the next person has to spell that colour and then say a different one, and so on. It must always be a new colour - the same cannot be used twice, which makes for some interesting colours later in the game!!

The focus is on the game, rather than the spelling, and both our girls loved this game! You could of course play this with any topic - not just colours.

Ability builds confidence and enjoyment

Kids enjoy doing things they are good at. We have always done a lot of reading and word games with our girls as we value the importance of a good set of language skills. As a result they are both good spellers and enjoy the challenge of spelling new and bigger and bigger words.

If your child struggles with spelling or doesn't enjoy it, I would suggest lots of games first, then as their skill and confidence improves add in oral and written spelling 'challenges'.

Which words to practice with?

Any words can be used for games and spelling practice. Words that you find in books or whatever your kids are reading, or words used in conversations.

You can also get ready made spelling lists for your kids.
Each year we now print out spelling lists for their age/grade from the internet. We keep these on the fridge and use them now and again to 'challenge' the girls (not test) them in spelling words both orally and in writing, both of which are important to be able to do.
Any words that they struggle with or constantly misspell we do get them to write out several times to help the correct spelling 'stick'. They don't resent this, but happily write them out as they want to get the whole 'challenge' right the next time!
I also found a printable list of 102 commonly missspelled words which I've printed out to use too!


With the Naplan tests this year in mind, we will be making sure we continue with our spelling games and challenges with the girls - and maybe write them some notes like these ones we did in the lead up to their last Naplan tests - kids love finding mistakes made by adults!

How about you?

Do you give your kids any extra help with their spelling?
Do you agree on the importance of learning to spell well despite the ubiquitous availability of spell checks?

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