Homeschooling     Hot Topics     Home and Family     Early Education     K-12     Education Guide    

Mom, How Do I Spell…?

Your little writer in the making

Helping your little writer in the making

Nothing is more exciting than watching our children learn to read and write. The good news is if they’ve heard hundreds of stories, have books to interact with, have access to writing materials and see you model reading and writing in everyday life, they’re just chomping at the bit to learn to read and write, themselves.

It’s a Challenge

Learning to write with conventional spelling is no easy feat. Imagine starting over again in a new language in which there are twenty-six times two symbols, dozens of sounds made by said symbols and a list of rules as long as your arm, all with exceptions. You might just pass on that bit of learning.

But your child can’t pass. Reading and writing are the doorways to learning. They need those skills and will use them for the rest of their lives. And, let’s face it; kids have the capacity to persevere where we adults might be prone to giving up.

Reading and Writing = Literacy

You can’t talk about writing without including reading skills. Emergent literacy is the term we use when children gain knowledge, bit by bit, gradually gaining understanding of the way the English alphabet works.

Young children, even babies and toddlers are in the process of becoming readers and writers. As we adults expose them to books and provide a rich learning environment, children make their way through a series of lessons toward conventional reading and writing proficiency.

From Squiggles to Words

Here are the stages children move through as they become more and more skilled in writing.

1. Drawing and Scribbling

At an early age children begin to understand that messages are conveyed with pencil and paper. They see words in books, they see letters and words in their home and in public places, they see their parents reading the mail and reading books. They want to do that, too. So they begin by making marks on paper. Even toddlers enjoy scribbling and later drawing. They may tell you their marks are pictures of a family member or pet, or they may convey the message they have in their head, “This says I love you, Dad.”

Parents can: encourage every effort at written communication and suggest more writing projects. This is not the time to “correct mistakes.” Their efforts are not mistakes, they are developmental strides toward real words and sentences.

2. Letter and Letter-like Forms

Children are learning the alphabet via books, songs, labels, and written messages in their environment. Not that they are trying to reproduce those letters. They may try a circle shape for the round letters and straight lines or block shapes for others. They begin to understand that letters are strung together and move from left to right.

Parents can: model writing real words such as family names, posting labels for common items around the house, and continue to provide any writing information the child asks for.

3. Beginning and Ending Sounds

As they learn the sounds that each letter says, they’ll try to string them together into words. They understand that they must use certain letters in a certain order and add spaces in between. Each word carries meaning. They’ll hear the beginning sound of words first, thus a letter c or k may mean cat. Later they’ll include the ending sounds (ct) and some children notice dominant sounds in the middle of words such as bbl for bubble.

Parents can: begin to print out three and four letter words for their children. Help them notice that each sound works together to make the word. Write their name and let them copy it. Encourage any independent writing and champion their efforts.

4. Invented Spellings

Now our little writer is cruising. The vowel sounds which are so tricky and unpredictable may be wrong, but the writing is now both legible and understandable. “I rod mi bik.” Since the words approximate the correct spellings, they get their message across to readers.

Parents can: provide lots of opportunities for the child to respond in writing. Work on vowel sounds, both long and short during short lessons, but allow the invented spellings in their writing efforts.

5. Conventional Spellings

Through much trial and error, study, and the reading of many books, children finally arrive at conventional spellings of our English language. Even adult writers continue to misspell many words since English has so many similar sounds and so many exceptions to our rules.

READ MORE: Squiggles to Words: The Emergent Writer

Your Role

You, the fortunate parents, have the joy and privilege of directing your little writers toward success. Your child will move through the various stages at his or her own pace—sometimes hovering between two levels for a time before moving on. There is no rush. The focus should be on writing as a tool of communication and it should be enjoyable.

As much as possible, encourage writing growth through authentic writing tasks. Let’s say you want to learn French. Which would you rather do, trace five words in that language beginning with a certain letter, or try to write a short letter to your friend? Fill in the blanks on the names for food items or make a real grocery list or order from a lovely French restaurant menu?

Children tire of rote memory work. Sometimes it is necessary, but usually there is a better, more authentic option. Have them write to a pen pal, tell the story of their pet’s life, write an invitation to a friend for a sleepover—you get the picture. Give them a real reason to practice and then the “work” is also fun.

Reading and writing are essential tools for learning. They open the door to knowledge about anything at all in this great big world. You can help your child master reading and writing at the earliest age possible by providing a positive learning environment in your home from day one.

Read books, engage in conversations, make books and writing materials available, and give lots of praise for any and all reading and writing efforts. You’ll be amazed when your child asks, “Mom, How do I spell (you add the big word.)”

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and reading specialist. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged. Find Jan at

For Further Information

How Do I Write…? Scaffolding Preschoolers’ Early Writing Skills by Cabell, Totorelli and Gerde

Letter Perfect: Helping Kids Learn to Write by Megan Othersen Gorman

Understanding Beginning Writing Skills in Preschoolers by Kristin Stanberry

More Homeschooling

  • Keep kids learning during summer

    3 Fun, Easy Ways

    With school out, summertime brings long, carefree days of play and fun. With a little thought and a few supplies, summer is a perfect opportunity to revitalize their innate love of learning that may be a bit squashed after a year of academic pressures, tests and schedules. read more »
  • 6 tips to mitigate mental health risks for youth

    The surgeon general highlight the urgent need to address Youth Mental Health Crisis

    Today’s kids are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety at home, school and in their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic, which affected kids in all those places, only exacerbated the problem. read more »
  • How to prevent cyberbullying with technology

    Who is at risk and what you can do

    Cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent among children and teens, as young people now spend more time on phones, computers and digital devices. About 6 in 10 teens have been bullied or harassed online, according to Pew Research Center. read more »
  • Hudson Highlands Nature Museum’s Homeschool Naturalist Program

    Adventure Awaits Students Ages 6-9

    The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum’s Homeschool Naturalist Program for children ages 6-9 has quickly become one of the Nature Museum’s most beloved programs. Originally created out of the needs of families undertaking distance/learning, the program has proved so popular it has remained in place by demand. read more »
  • Indoor spots for teens to play

    Older kids need exercise too

    Teens need places to go that aren't lame and won't bore them to tears. We have the best in the Valley listed just for you. read more »
  • World's No. 1 STEAM Program Launches New STEM/STEAM Book Series

    New Challenge Island chapter book series with a spectacular, hands-on STEM/STEAM twist!

    Challenge Island has been providing kids with award-winning STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning adventures for almost two decades. On National Stem Day (Nov. 8), the magic of the world's No. 1 STEAM program will combine with the magic of reading to launch the first book in the Challenge Island STEAM book series. read more »
  • Mother Shares Her Journey with Heroin-Addicted Daughter

    Read the gripping new book about this family

    September is National Recovery Month and one mom has shared her journey with her daughter struggling with addiction. read more »
  • Learn How to Help Your Struggling Adolescents Navigate Change and Overcome Anxiety

    Parenting expert Erica Komisar has a new book that can assist you

    Adolescence is a notoriously complicated time for kids as well as their parents. Plus, the epidemic of mental health disorders in young people has made parenting today even more challenging. But it’s not too late. Parents of adolescents can still have a profound impact on the health and well-being of their children. read more »
  • The Mama Bear Effect Launches New Resource to Combat Child Sexual Abuse

    Parents of young children and those with special education needs now have a free tool to educate children about their bodies and boundaries

    Parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists now have a new tool to educate the most vulnerable population of children, those who need specialized assistance with learning and communication. read more »
  • How to help high-achieving students manage stress

    Tips and insight for parents

    School administrators at Howard County Public Schools (HCPS) in Maryland were surprised to learn that high-achieving students wanted to get rid of class rank—a measure of student success that weighs higher-level classes differently when calculating grade point average. The class ranking system created an unnecessary burden, students said, and discouraged them from taking the classes they really wanted. read more »