I remember the first day Jenny came home with “spellings” – a list of 10 words to be learnt, ready for the class’s weekly spelling test. We diligently sat down at the table and worked our way through the words, and she managed to get 9/10 on the test. Brilliant!
Then the next week, a new set of words came home.
And the following week was another set. And another, and another…
The novelty quickly wore off and Jenny realised this was hard work. No sooner had she learnt the list than another one appeared to take its place. In many ways, it was demoralising.
After 18 months of this, my placid, good-natured 7 year old had had enough – she started having a tantrum at the very mention of spellings and would often have a meltdown as we practised. Her confidence was low (despite achieving good scores) and her motivation was at rock bottom.
And it was around this time that we began to see school-related anxiety surfacing.
That’s when I knew things had to change. I couldn’t face this battle every week and I couldn’t bear seeing Jenny so upset.
I’m going to share with you the changes we made to create a more positive attitude to the spelling test drill, but first I want to tell you the top 3 mistakes that parents make when it comes to spelling tests.
Top 3 spelling test mistakes parents make
1. Irrelevant reasons
Kids will often wonder what the point is of the spelling test is. To them, it just seems boring and pointless, and they’d rather be off playing.
Why do I have to do it?
Often parents will throw out one of these explanations to convince their kids to do their spellings:
- “So you can get a good job.”
- “You have a test on Tuesday.”
- “Because the teacher said so!”
But it’s rare that kids will care about any of these reasons. They are irrelevant as far as children are concerned.
I’m 7 years old – I just want to be a fairy when I grow up! The spelling test isn’t for another 3 days – why do I need to practise now?! My teacher is in charge at school, not at home.
Keep reading for some better, relevant reasons.
2. Focus on the mistakes
Child: I got 9 out of 10 in my test today.
Parent: That’s brilliant! Which one did you get wrong?
Does this conversation sound familiar? It’s certainly a trap I’ve fallen into. As parents, we want to know where our kids went wrong so that we can help them better next time. But the problem is, we are turning the focus from our child’s brilliant score to their single mistake.
The implication is that we don’t care what they did right – we’re only bothered about that one mistake.
3. Get frustrated
Practising for a spelling test, just like every other bit of homework, can be frustrating. I try to get Jenny’s done as soon as we get in from school, so that she doesn’t have to work on the weekend.
But it’s such a busy time of the day!
Her little sister is vying for attention and often climbing all over me. And the longer it takes, the later I can start making tea (dinner for my southern readers!). Often Jenny is tired having already done a full day at school (one of the reasons I personally disagree with homework, but that’s a post for another day!) and doesn’t concentrate fully on the task.
It all makes for a very stressful hour!
But getting annoyed and worked up will make it a horrible time of the day. The child’s job is to learn the spellings, and your job (as difficult as it may be) is to keep it calm and positive.
Spelling Test Solutions
But don’t worry – it’s not hopeless. We managed to turn it all around for Jenny and here are the simple steps we took to take the stress out of spelling test practise.
- Funny sentences – it’s good practise to say the spelling and then give an example of it in a sentence. Jenny and I make up funny sentences to keep the mood light, or sometimes we see how many of the spellings in the list we can get into a single sentence
- Options – giving the kids a bit of control over their schedule can help them to feel more confident and take ownership of the work. Try saying “Do you want to do your spellings now or after tea?” or “It’s time for spellings would you like an apple or a banana to eat while we do them?”
- 3 at a time – instead of doing 10 copies of the same spelling and then moving on to the next word, do the first word twice, then the second word twice, and the third word twice. Now repeat those 3 words twice each again. This helps them commit the words to long term memory rather than just their short term memory bank
- Give relevant reasons – it can be difficult to think of relevant reasons on the spot so here are a few to get you started. You need to learn spellings so that you can…
- Write birthday invitations
- Book cinema tickets
- Write stories
- Find out information about dinosaurs / football / horses / pop music
- Send birthday cards
- Search for things on the internet
- Read stories
- Write your own songs
- Write your Christmas list
- Know your child – if they’re really not “feeling it” that day, don’t force it. Go through as many spellings as you’re able and then leave it. We all have off days and as long as it doesn’t happen every week, just accept that they may not score as highly this week – it’s better to preserve a positive attitude to learning than keep pushing and make them hate their school work.
- Celebrate the score – as tough as it may be, just be happy about the score they got rather than asking what went wrong. Yes I know you’re curious, but it will help your child’s confidence if you just focus on their good spelling test score and not the mistakes.
- Stay positive – try to make the experience as positive as possible. Maybe have a special snack that you eat together or sit in a special place together or use a special pen. If they feel that this time together is important to you too, they may even start to look forward to spelling day!
Those are the spelling test strategies that worked for us. How does your child cope with homework and / or spelling practise? Do you have any strategies that work well? Let me know in the comments section below.
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