You may have wondered about the All About Spelling and All About Reading advertising banners you see at my sidebar. They are curriculums for Spelling and Reading from the US. If you are from Singapore, you may not be familiar with All About Spelling and you may be wondering what is this Spelling thing about because the way spelling is being taught here is :
1. Teacher gives a list of words.
2. Student go home and learn the list of words.
3. Parents drill their kids to learn the list of words.
4. Teacher tests students on those words.
5. Teacher gives another list of words for the following week.
Honestly, before I started teaching my own kid, I just assumed this is just how spelling is to be taught and learned. I never imagined there would be other ways. I was taught this way myself. Till this day, schools are still teaching spelling this way.
One day, when #3 was able to read and write his alphabets fairly well, I starting thinking about spelling. I figured spelling should fit in somewhere so that he would learn how to spell common words and really learn to write things. When #1 & #2 were in preschool, I was the parent who received the list of words from the teachers. I worked with the boys at home to help them learn their spelling, and they got tested by their teachers in school. It worked fine because the Teacher and the Parent were two different persons. Then it dawned on me that for #3, it made absolutely no sense for me, the Teacher, to give a list of words; then me, the Parent, work with him to learn the spelling either by rote chanting or by writing the words many times; and finally, me, the Teacher again, test him on the words. I felt a bit stupid doing that. I don’t know how other homeschooling parents do spelling this way but it is a bit weird for me.
I have seen many overseas homeschooling parents list Spelling as part of their curriculum, treating Spelling like a standalone subject with its own curriculum and texts. This is very unusual to me. Here, spelling is a small part of the subject, English. Sometimes, it seems rather insignificant compared to other aspects of the subject, such as Creative Writing and Grammar. I have wondered about how Spelling is taught overseas but I did not give much thought to it until that day when I thought about #3 and spelling.
So I decided to find out more about it and I found out that there are ways to teach spelling. There are spelling rules. Instead of learning word by word, we can spell many words just by learning one rule. Suddenly, it made so much sense to me. The way things are done locally, kids are actually not taught how to spell. They are just made to learn how to spell lists of words. There is a difference here. The former involves a skill. The latter does not.
The whole thing fits nicely into what I am doing too. I don’t have to do the List Method. I can teach #3 spelling by teaching him the skills of spelling. It is neither meaningless nor weird. I decided to give it a try because it made more sense than giving the List. I am sure there are many spelling programme out there. However, I picked All About Spelling because of the many good reviews I have read. I took the plunge (because it is not cheap) and order the first book to try.
That was middle of the year before last when #3 was 4 year old. Today, we are doing Book 4 already. The programme worked. In fact, before we finished Book 1, #3’s spelling skill has surpassed his brother, who was in Primary 1 at that time. I remember there was this day, he read something that #2 wrote on a piece of paper. There was a spelling error, which he promptly corrected his older brother. He even had the audacity to tell his brother, “Your spelling is really bad!” We are talking about a 4 year old vs a 7 year old here. The 7 year old retorted that he could spell “responsibility”, which is a big word. Later that day, when #2 was not around, I asked #3 if he thought he could spell “responsibility”. To my surprise, he could, by simply figuring out the sound – which was what he learned from the spelling programme (plus a bit of his own ability through his reading because officially he had not learned the ‘y’ ending at that time). I had to keep this from #2 for a while, so as not to hurt his feelings. 🙁
Actually, the programme can be used on #2 as well, because it is good to learn spelling rules. It is just that I have not got the time to teach him using the programme. A friend of mine wondered whether the programme would be of any use if her child could learn her weekly school spelling very easily the “normal” way. Well, I have a classic example at home. #1, being an intelligent child, had no problem with spelling when he was in lower Primary. The lists of words he got were no big deal to him. However, now, his spelling is atrocious! Learning lists of words is not hard. The problem is that eventually, the kid will have to write a lot and spelling lists can only cover a very small number of words. What happen to the other words he has to write but have not learned through spelling lists? This is where you can tell whether the kid is a terrible speller and I have one at home right now. It all boils down to not having the skill to spell.
Of course, there are many kids who pick up spelling quite naturally without much problem. But not all kids are like that and now I do not know what to do with #1 to improve his spelling in time for the national level exam he has to sit for at the end of the year.
One thing I like about this programme is the tactile learning. The child learns to spell using tiles of phonogram first. It is much easier to see how the sound of a word breaks down this way. For a young kid, this is much better than relying on worksheets and books. The programme gives you detailed instructions on how to lay out the tiles on a white board. Due to space constraint, we could not have a big white board as recommended and have to make do with a smaller one. The white board eventually got quite filled up. I bought a separate smaller, personal size white board for #3 to write out the words that he is spelling.
The programme also comes with a lot of cards. Word cards, phonogram cards, rule cards and so on. In my opinion, although the cards make teaching easier, it is not absolutely necessary. However, when you purchase the programme, you will have to get the Student Packet which comes with the cards, certificate of completion, etc, so you can’t really avoid the cards. I found a box in Daiso which is just nice to hold one level’s worth of card. So you do not actually have to purchase the box from them to keep the cards.
All About Spelling is really a good programme. Even as I teach #3, I am learning myself. Remember, I was not taught how to spell in school. Even I am enjoying the ‘enlightenment’ this programme is bringing me. Suddenly, a lot of things make sense! If I have the time, I would really like to teach #2 using this programme. Even though he does not have any problem with his weekly school spelling right now, as #1 has shown us, this is not an indication that he will not become terrible at spelling eventually.
What are the not-so-good part about this programme?
1. The cost
It is really not cheap and the international shipping is absolutely killing! The shipping can cost as much as the material itself, which I think is a bit much. However, there are ways to get around this problem. If you have friends in the US who are coming back, it would be great if they can bring it back for you so you can save on the shipping. Alternatively, you can try using postal services like vPost or Borderlinx. Please work out the shipping to see which is a cheaper option for you. You should also calculate what is the optimal number of sets of materials you should buy to maximise the shipping charges. The last order I made, I managed to keep shipping cost to about US$10 per set of material. I did a lot of maths. (@_@)
2. It is an American “program”
Over here, we still use British English in school, so many words are spelled and pronounced differently. To me, this is a small problem because the similarity is far greater than the differences between the two. Someone made a list of adaptations to British English and I think it can be found on All About Learning forum. I simply make adjustments and explain along the way as we come across words of different spelling or pronunciation.
3. The child should have a strong foundation in phonics
Although it is not a prerequisite, having a good phonics foundation will cause learning to be smooth sailing because spelling is done phonetically. What do I mean by a good phonics foundation? Minimally, the child should know all the sounds of the alphabets, including the long and short vowel sounds. He will learn all other phonograms through this programme. Besides knowing the sounds of the alphabets, he should also be quite comfortable and familiar with phonics and is able to split words into sounds (vs blend sounds into words). Does that mean that you need to send your child to some expensive phonics programme first? I do not think so. All I did to teach #3 phonics was simply to use The Reading Lessons to teach him how to read. When he completed that book, he was equipped with enough phonics skill to get the hang of spelling very quickly.
4. The lessons can be long
While Book 1 and 2 lessons are fairly easy to get through, at Book 3, it gets a bit long, especially with the dictations. I find myself spending at least 30 minutes per lesson, and the duration is getting a bit much for #3. To be fair, it is not mandatory to finish the whole lesson in one seating. However, I don’t like to drag things on too many times, so I like to be able to finish one lesson in one or two seatings. We are still trying to work out the optimal arrangement for us at this time point in time.
All in all, I am very happy with this programme and have been recommending it to friends. I really think schools should teach kids how to spell in this way instead of using the Spelling List method.
** I am an affiliate seller for All About Spelling and All About Reading, so all the links to the site are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you click on the links and purchase their products. However, I do not give a good review just because I am an affiliate seller. It is the other way round : I am an affiliate seller because I think the product is worth shouting about. I am not paid in cash or in kind to write this review.