Some children, it seems, can spell intuitively: by looking at a word and knowing whether it is incorrect. Some will start by spelling somewhat phonetically, and gradually learn to spell correctly over the years, with a bit of assistance. Others will learn rule after rule, and then still apply some of them wrongly. (Why isn’t rough spelt like cuff? Flight like kite?).If your child is one of the latter type, you will need to find a compromise between ignoring the problem completely and treating it as all-important. Spelling is useful in helping us communicate in writing. Unfortunately incorrect spelling can make a writer seem ignorant, not to be taken seriously. However nobody should feel bad about inability to spell. It is no more their fault than being unable to sing in tune.
Phonic rules may be useful for spelling
For a young child who is interested in writing and would like to spell better, you could teach phonic rules. It is easiest to do this one rule at a time, without pressure, and help him to spell words correctly. When you come across the many exceptions, let him know that you agree with any concerns he might express. It is annoying that English is such an unpredictable language as far as spelling goes. The reason is partly to do with the many roots of our language (some Latin, some Greek, some Anglo-Saxon, and more…). If your child is interested in ancient civilisations, he may find it useful to study etymology. But it depends on the child. If it confuses him even more, it’s best to stop.
If your child wants a weekly spelling test like schoolchildren have, then choose words which he often misspells and help him to practise writing them in sentences. Don’t do this if he finds it stressful, or if he becomes anxious about spelling, however. Anxiety is not conducive to learning. However if he enjoys this (and some children do) it may be a useful exercise.
Don’t worry if he keeps making mistakes. Show him how to use the spelling-checker on the computer. He may find that his spelling improves as he becomes used to correct spellings of words on the screen. For a useful resource, with various printable worksheets and extensive spelling and grammar rules, see the literacy pages at the Skills workshop. There are other relevant sites on my English resources page.
Grammar is important in communication
Grammar is also important; again it’s an aid to communication. If you are careful to speak grammatically, and if your child reads widely, he will probably pick up good grammar naturally. Teach him about the different parts of speech and think about the way words are formed, if he is interested. This will be of some value if he begins to learn another language, where such rules may be more formal. However if he’s not interested there’s really no need to know about verbs and nouns and so on.
It’s also important to understand the basic rules of punctuation in written English, and how to avoid the pitfalls. If you want to teach grammar, punctuation and general English rules more formally, a thorough text is Hadyn Richards Junior English. A child of about seven or eight is probably ready for the first book, although of course it depends on the individual child. You can work through these books verbally, or with the child writing if he wants to.
If you want to make sure your child is roughly keeping up with his age group in school, there are several assessment testing books available. These are frequently updated so as to reflect latest National Curriculum guidelines. You should be able to find the latest ones in any local or online bookshop. Keep such tests infrequent and informal, and use them to see where there may be weaknesses that you can work on together.
Don’t forget that there is no requirement (or, indeed, method) for home educated children to take SATS tests. Nor do they need to follow the National Curriculum in any subject. Nevertheless, being able to write grammatically and with reasonable spelling is a useful skill. Moreover, it is easier to learn gradually at a young age than it is as an adult when it may be necessary for job applications.
Writing in the teenage years
Once your child is about ten or eleven, and confident in all areas of English, he may want to write articles for magazines or poetry or even full-length novels. Your child’s imagination can flow in any direction he wishes.
However if you want to use some text books, there are some excellent general English course text-books which secondary schools use. Some of them focus on fairly structured writing with grammar and spelling rules. Others have inspiring creative writing ideas. Then there are some which look at poetry in all forms – from classic sonnets through to haikus and limericks. Others introduce children to a wide variety of literature. You have no need for any of these, but some children like structured courses. Using a book like this might open up some new avenues that you would not otherwise have explored. Publications vary from year to year, so it’s best to check your local bookshops with your children, and see which (if any) text-books appeal.
As with younger children, you will find a wide variety of Internet resources devoted to literature and books which teenagers might enjoy. Try searching for your favourite authors or book characters: most will have sites devoted to them. An interesting site where other home educated teenagers recommend and review books is at Homeschool gazette – book sharing
If you want to read some myths and legends, perhaps to tie in with a history topic about ancient civilisations, a comprehensive selection can be found at Bullfinch’s mythology.
For good reviews of books for teenagers, particularly those recently published, a site which is frequently updated with new reviews is The Bookbag.
An older child who writes well may want to consider submitting work to magazines or book publishers. Excellent advice for writers is given at Jacqui Bennett’s writers’ web site.
GCSE and beyond