Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary

When prepping a room that needs to be painted, you clear the walls, patch the holes, sand if needed, and then you can apply the primer and paint.  If you skip any preliminary steps, you will have an inferior job at the end.  There is no way around that.  Learning to read, write, and speak well requires certain steps be followed too.

First thing to tackle with your child is phonics.  There are 70 basic phonograms in the English language.  You can purchase a set of phonogram flashcards online for under $20, or you can make one.  Simply search the internet for phonogram rules. Look for a complete list of the phonograms, the sounds they make, and the rules to know which sound it will have.  Example: “G” is generally soft when followed by e, i, and y. If you and your children memorize the rules and sounds, reading becomes much easier, spelling is less mysterious, and frustration levels drop.  (Words which we have borrowed from other languages have their own rules.)


When phonics are solid and reading is becoming smoother, spelling can be introduced with less stress.  Why we ask a child who isn’t comfortable putting words together to begin taking them apart, I will never understand.  If you need to put the speller away until second grade or so, that’s okay.  Once the foundation is intact, your child may just surprise you with how quickly they learn their spelling words.  Which brings me to another quandary.  Why assign lists of words your children already know?  I found my children were much less resistant when I tested the list orally first.  If they knew them, I tested the next list the next day.  If there were only a few which were unfamiliar, they wrote them out on paper for penmanship, and we tested just those words the following day.  If a majority of the words were misspelled orally then we used that as the assigned list for study.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to accelerate or slow down as needed.  If your child needs to split the lesson into smaller chunks, go for it.  If it takes more than one week to learn the words, take the time needed.  In the end, they will be learned.  No pressure.  No failure.


As my children entered their “tweens,” I moved them from spelling lists to vocabulary pages.  At this point I became a bit of a ogre about their assignments.  Each list of ten words was to be completed by the end of the week neatly typed in the proper format.  The following were required:

  • Each word numbered 1-10
  • The correct spelling of each word
  • Part of speech labeled
  • Definition of the word
  • Following the numbered portion of the assignment on the lower part of the page, they were required to use each word correctly in a sentence.  If they could group some of the words into fewer than ten sentences, that was fine so long as there were no run-on sentences and everything made sense.  (I think the current record is three sentences for all ten words.)

You could assign fewer words if that suits your situation better, but I found that a list of more than ten became cumbersome for everyone involved.

Which words to assign?  That’s up to you.  You can continue using a text such as McGuffey’s Speller, or you can begin to extract words from the course of study you are using.  Unfamiliar words from their literature studies, science unit, or history assignments create a pertinent and user-friendly list.   If you notice words which are consistently misspelled in their writing, they are great candidates as well.  Mom can even participate in the vocabulary exercises with them!

Language development is such an important part of preparing our children for adulthood.  Take the time needed on each step so that the foundation you build is without cracks.  Then the sky is the limit!