Blue Yonder and The Bee

by Stefani on 16-May-2008

As you well know, I’m a little wordy. I’m the kind of gal that gets excited about a blank notebook, a sharpened pencil and a long stretch of time in which to fill up those pages with every little imagining.

So, it is really important to me, as my kids’ teacher, that they grow to be inspired and awed by the power of words.

But, it ain’t easy. Of course, we read a lot as a family. The kids dictate their stories to me, and then illustrate them or add in a word or a sentence or two of their own. At some point though, you just have to do the hard work of learning to spell, write and read words that don’t follow the rules all on your own. When you are just learning how to do those things, it doesn’t feel awe inspiring, it’s like learning scales on an instrument – necessary, but a far cry from the beautiful music in your head.

I guess I can’t speak for all children, but as for mine, they aren’t the sort that learn well in a traditional read it, drill it, do a worksheet format. They really need to see a thing, touch it, taste it, turn it around, step on it and stick it in their ear before it becomes meaningful to them, particularly things as “dry” as spelling and sight words.

So, I can’t tell you how many different ways we’ve tried to make their study of these things interesting, or at least a step above drudgery.

I hope that in sharing our ever-growing list of word study ideas, we will help a little person you love come to know the magic of words too!

A few of the things we’ve tried with our spelling and sight words:

* “carve” them in bricks of playdoh or clay with a toothpick or skewer

* smear shaving cream on a tray and then trace them into the cream with a finger

* same thing, but with sand

* same thing, but with coffee creamer. We have a jar of the French Vanilla kind that we reuse again and again for this purpose. My kids love it, because it smells good.

Word Work

* Make them with magnetic letters, or letter tiles

* Cut out letters in magazines and paste them on paper to make the words

* “write” the letters with glue sticks and stick on shredded bits of paper to form the words

Word Art

* write the words (LARGE) with markers, and then cover the lines with stickers

* cover colored paper with dark crayon, then “etch” out the words with a fingernail or chopstick

* write them on a chalk board or dry erase board and then erase them with a tracing finger

* use buttons or toothpicks to form the words

* paint the words

* make long play doh snakes and bend them to form the letters

Play Doh Spelling Words

* use those dot markers (like for Bingo) to make the words on paper

* type the words on an old typewriter

* email the words to a friend or family member

* record yourself spelling the words and play it back

* make a video of yourself spelling your words – we did ours by holding up one printed letter at a time and more or less YELLING the letter, then cutting to a shot of the whole word while everybody screamed it. It was so very Sesame Street 🙂

* string words together using alphabet beads

* stamp the words with alphabet stamps

* sidewalk chalk

* Invisible Ink! Just have the child paint the letters on paper with lemon juice. Then, when dry, hold them up to a light bulb (100W) or iron them (put a towel between the paper and iron). You can ask your little learner if they remember how to spell the word, then he can check himself when the invisible ink appears.

Appearing, Disappearing Ink

* body letters – try to spell out the word using your body or fingers.

* movement – try to hop, clap, stomp, snap, sway your hips or spin while you spell the word

Phew! That’s a lot of word play!

I’m sure there’s lots more fun activities out there. Do you have any tricks for helping your littles learn their words?

gonzomama May 16, 2008 at 8:41 am

My little one is only a year old, but I love all these ideas! Thanks for sharing.

heather May 16, 2008 at 9:56 am

great ideas as always! my girl is ten now, but one of our favorite “games” we made up was to play go fish with cards we made with words on them (of course you must make pairs of words). sit across from one another, deal the cards (7 a piece?) and begin. do you have a “moon” – “no, go fish” or “yes, here you go.” by doing this is requires each person to read. and by reading small words carefully, we become better spellers.

i hope this makes sense, it really is a lot of fun!

erin May 16, 2008 at 10:02 am

there is a way to make every letter out of a standard pretzel….you can nibble your words!

erin May 16, 2008 at 10:03 am

oh, and we make rainbow letters out of our spelling words. you write the word in one color and then trace it in all the colors of the rainbow – great repetition without being boring!

Grace May 16, 2008 at 11:39 am

Wow! You are so creative — I’m totally inspired!

I have to tell you, too, Stefani, that although I don’t leave comments for you as often as I should (and especially in the last month when I have only had access to a computer a couple of days a week), yours was the very first blog that I thought of when I was creating a “short list” of inspiring blogs to list on my handout for my recent talk on creative outlets for mothers. The very first one. xoxox

Liz May 16, 2008 at 12:15 pm

These are awesome ideas – thanks for sharing. In my class, after the words have been introduced and mostly memorized, we play puzzle word bingo. I made some cards in Word and two kids have bingo card while the other is the “caller.” That way, everyone has a chance to read the words.

Casey May 16, 2008 at 1:53 pm

What excellent ideas. So much better than my stock response, which is “Look it up!”

Rocketboy does love a spelling bee, though, so every now and then we’ll have one of those. He’s the only contestant but that doesn’t bother him a bit.

Hurricanehead likes to take his flash cards with pictures and phonetic labels on them and type the words on the laptop. He’s “working like Daddy” when he does this.

melmo May 16, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Sweet, thanks for sharing such great ideas once again!

Stephanie May 16, 2008 at 4:20 pm

No little ones any more, but what about teaching them the manual alphabet for the deaf? They can pretend it’s a “secret code” to talk with each other out in public–and of course, you’ll know what they are saying so you can monitor them!

janna May 16, 2008 at 7:13 pm

I love that you write so much about homeschooling your children. I have 3 children and one due in August. And my oldest child who is 6 years old dislikes school so much. I am going to start homeschooling or unschooling and all of your ideas are so helpful. Keep up the good work and if you can, maybe you can give me pointers too!

brit May 16, 2008 at 8:52 pm

my oldest still has a problem with writing, I think he expects his letters to look like mine and then gets frustrated when they don’t, however he loves to spell words. We have fridge magnets and bath thingees..(technical term) and I made him a flannel board so he could write his favorite words write on the wall. I was excited the other day when he tried writing his name in the sand at the beach. He gave up after awhile but he still wrote his brothers name which is easier for him with less curves..these are some great ideas.

Rachel L May 17, 2008 at 3:07 am

Those are some great ideas! My son also is struggling with his writing and I love that idea of using a tray of sand/shaving foam to write the words in, we’ll definitely have to try that. I just bought some sidewalk chalks too!

OMSH May 17, 2008 at 11:00 pm

For sight words, I’d write them out on post its and stick them on the doorframes. Before they could go through that door, they had to say the word.

Once they “memorized” what door had what word, I’d switch them out.

Anne May 18, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I know I’ve said this before, but you really should write a book about your homeschool activities. There is nothing out there that includes things like this; easy to do, but so helpful for the little ones.

Montessori stores sell sandpaper letters on cards, but this is something you could make at home-what boy doesn’t like sandpaper?

Lisa Clarke May 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm

We’re a big fan of wooden letter blocks around here, along with an endless supply of paper, and access to the Notepad program on the computer.

My 5-year-old is teaching himself to read at the moment (because, really, my kids do seem to be self-motivated in that regard – they just have a natural curiosity for decoding words, and need very little encouragement from me. I’m not sure if that’s the norm…) His favorite activity right now is list-making on paper. When he plays school, he makes lists of the kids that are in his class. He lists “episodes” of shows he’s made up, shopping lists, recipes – basically anything that can tie into his imaginative play. Having these lists on paper seem to enhance his games for him, which is probably what keeps him excited about learning to write and spell things.

And I use the term “spell” loosely, LOL! Some of his spellings are quite adventurous. I don’t always correct him, but when I do, I do it in a way that lets him know I appreciate how he just “goes for it” and gives it a try without ever fearing failure.

Melissa May 21, 2008 at 3:49 am

LOL, I could have written the bit about your children having to see, touch, taste, stick it in their ear, about my children! We are a very “hands-on” family here too, lots and lots of nature study.

These are some very creative and awesome ideas for helping with spelling. I’ve written then all down for use!

In the Sparrow’s Nest

Farm Chick May 21, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I clicked over from Chikaustin’s page. I really like your blog.

I am a homeschooling mommy, with 4 kids. I loved your spelling idea’s.

I just saw that you have a homemade yogurt recipe~I am off to check that out.

thimbleina May 25, 2008 at 3:33 am

Some great ideas for learning to spell, I think I shall use some of these for my daughter as she to doesn’t like doing things the traditional way. I’m glad I found your blog via Mollycoddle.

Christi May 29, 2008 at 9:55 am

LOVE these ideas – I’m always on the lookout for more ways to get my littles to spell.


Brandi May 29, 2008 at 12:33 pm

A friend of mine did site word treasure hunts. She’d put sticky notes with the words all over the house and say a word, the kids had to go around the house and read them to find the right one! They loved it, and now we do it with other stuff, like math problems!

lola May 30, 2008 at 7:02 pm

LOVE all your spelling ideas – Dr. Maria Montessori would be impressed, too! We go to Montessori school which uses some of the same methods as you – alpha sounds & printing are first taught using sandpaper letters which the children trace over with their fingers; then they use the sandtray – LOVE your vanilla creamer idea (now I’m also thinkin’ chocolate pudding – mmmmm!) – and then the moveable alphabet (wooden letters) to create words & small sentences. Alpha beads are also available to incorporate their name in a necklace creation – b/c the first thing everyone wants to learn to spell is their name! I gave my poor dd a long first name, Mackenzie, so we learned to spell it by singing the letters to the tune of “Mickey Mouse” (sort of works if you drag out the last 3 letters of her name) Anything tactile & interactive has got to be more fun & inspiring than the memorizing & write them out 1,000x each drills we had!!! Anyways, since I have no original ideas of my own, I love reading those from others like you. I have so much admiration for homeschoolers!

Linn August 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Oh how this makes me miss my teaching days! After reading this post I went straight upstairs because I could not for the life of me remember the name of a book I loved for teaching spelling words…Found it! It’s called Making Words and I used it in my first grade student teaching class, then later used Making Big Words with my upper grade classes. We played it like a contest where everyone had a ziplock bag of letter tiles that we made and laminated. Each lesson has one super-word (long) and the book leads you (teacher) through sequences that use that word’s letters to build smaller words that have similar spelling patterns. We loved using that resource.

Or what about letting them learn Morse code or the words for every letter of the alphabet (you know, like sailors use?) to spell the words out? (CAT = Charlie Alpha Tango) Here’s a link to a list of them:

Okay, I know I’m getting a little too excited, so I’ll stop now.

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