Tuesday, January 22, 2008

National Spelling Bee...Spelling with a Purpose

My children used to find spelling b-o-r-i-n-g! What to do? I have to admit, I always thought spelling was boring too! The words were too easy! Then spelling bees came into my life. What fun! In 7th and 8th grades, I won the school spelling bees and got to compete in downtown San Antonio. Sadly, I never won for the city; I never made it to Washington DC.

 Even though my kids were easily excited about competition, we could never find the time to study. A couple of years ago I started rethinking our boxed curriculum to make a move to classical education. My children seemed to have hit a wall and needed a new boost. Making a huge decision, we have abandoned traditional spelling programs and began studying exclusively for the spelling bee. Now we are studying classically in spelling, as well as in all of our other subjects. Not only has this been more beneficial, it was more exciting to my children as well. 

Our study list comes from the National Spelling Bee.

As soon as the list comes out early each autumn, we order the study booklets. We have done this various ways. Right now they work at their own speed. We set aside about 5-15 minutes a day for spelling. They choose their category and I quiz them until they miss 10. 

I’ve heard somewhere that most kids suffer in spelling because they tend to look at the whole word, when they should be seeing it sequentially. I have told my kids to write the word 5x each (kinesthetic) while spelling it out loud (auditory) so they can see what they are doing (visual). They can also write the words in shaving cream or a sandbox, for texture input. (This in fact, is how I taught my daughter to read.) Their preference is to use the pen and paper route, probably because that texture stuff really bothers them.

The National Spelling Bee booklist has changed dramatically since I was my children’s ages. When I was a student, we got booklets with scores of words divided into three sections: beginning, intermediate and advanced. When my children started competing, the name of the book was Padeia and there were categories that would link well with unit studies. Within each category, the words were divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced. All that changed, to our initial dismay, last year. However, after studying in the new way we came to like it even more because it is more classically based...and we learned more!

The booklet was still divided into categories, but now they were by Language of Origin. Although the expected origins included Greek and Latin, there were others like...German, Spanish and French! Within each language of origin, the words were divided into the main list and the challenge words. There were also tips and game-like quizzes to go a higher level in applying the logic of language of origin.

This year there was yet another change. I no longer need to mail order a booklet. We can now get them online and they are linked to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (Love Noah Webster! Reading a biography on him is a great classical connection to the spellling bee!) One of the values of using the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary is that you can click an audio byte for the proper pronunciation of these words. Many of the spelling bee words are difficult to pronounce, precisely because they come from other languages, so they don't follow standard English phonetic patterns.

We now prefer this new organizational method, by Language of Origin, because spelling rules finally make sense! Each particular language has its own particular rules. That is why the basic rules, which are the same as basic phonics rules, rarely work. The basic rules for words we learn to read first usually have their origin in the English language in the Middle Ages which was agrarian based. When words from other languages came into the English language, of course those words will follow different spelling patterns. For example, English is heavy in French words because of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. 

As a result, we now find that the dictionary is interesting. In fact, dictionaries are fascinating history books that take one on a classical journey. No wonder! The American dictionary was first written by Noah Webster, who knew his Greek and Latin...and consulted other languages as well. Whenever a particular word stumps us we look it up.  Instead of merely reading the definition, we also look at the origin of the word.  We are often surprised and delighted at how much more we'll learn about the word! 

As a result, we now have a logical means of organizing our spelling notebooks. We have a tab for each language of origin:

After printing out the word lists and study tips, we stick them behind the appropriate category. If we ever want to add more words, we can easily add them into the proper category.

By the way, today was our local homeschool spelling bee. My 12 year old son tied for 6th

 and my daughter placed 5th. (Her picture came out blurry.) Competition has accomplished more than making spelling interesting for them. They are also learning composure in front of an audience as well as good sportsmanship. And who’s to know…maybe someday there will be a trip to Washington, D.C.!

Update (3-7-17) My kids have Sensory Integration Disorder which caused various learning delays. My son had more texture issues and my daughter had mostly motor planning issues. My kids are now in college. There are a lot of things I'd do differently, but if I had it to do again, I'd have done the Spelling Bee, exactly how I wrote this post, EARLIER!!! It made that much of a difference. I must also add, that time is  important too. I didn't see success overnight, but over time. Sometimes we get so caught up in seeing a change right now, when instead we are planting seeds that we need to nourish through the seasons of life. In due time, the fruit will come...if we are faithful to lead, guide and mentor. 😊


  1. That is so interesting and they did good!! We watched part of the big televised CanSpell Spelling Bee last year and my son was really into it so I can see how participating in something like that would really get them going :)

    Thanks for sharing,


  2. This was really interesting to read-I like the folders you set up for your spelling, too. Congrats on the kids participating in the spelling bee and for doing so well!

    I love the picture at the top of your blog-so pretty! Holly

  3. MayTheyBeMightyMenJanuary 23, 2008 at 9:21 AM

    I'm intrigued with your choice to go with this method of spelling. It's even more interesting to me when I think of "Spelling Ace" Bell Pepper Boy over here. I don't want spelling to be boring, and I think he might learn more this way than if we remain in the Spelling Power book.

    SP has its good points for sure, but we would still need to do all the dictionary work anyway.

    I kind of like the idea of keeping the SP methods while considering the Spelling Bee focus. (I haven't really nudged my son toward competition, but probably should.)

    Your post was really informational and helpful! Thanks for the blessing! It's always good to see what's going on in other schools' little worlds.

  4. Thanks for explaining all that for me! I've wondered for years how all that worked. Enjoy that wonderful bath- you've been a busy girl!



  5. I really like the way you approach spelling. Not one of my children have natural spelling tendencies and this has been something we have been dealing with since my oldest was young. We use spelling power, which works well, but I really like your idea about breaking the words into origin groups. Glad your kids did well. Washington is a great place to visit, so maybe someday.... : )

    Thanks so much for your prayers this week and your comments. I really appreciate it.

    Sending warm blessings your way,


  6. Wow, this looks great! Love the emphasis on word origin- totally makes sense. Thank you for writing this informative post. I'll be looking into do it for sure.

  7. What an interesting way to approach spelling! Personally, I am a terrible speller, so I am learning so much even with my children's basic spelling instruction. The way the spelling bee book is set up sounds really great. Thanks for sharing!