Brave Spelling

My oldest daughter is a bit of a perfectionist.  (I have no idea where she got this trait, but I suspect my husband thinks it comes from me.)  She is in kindergarten this year, and her perfectionism has become a small obstacle to her writing development.  She doesn’t know how to spell all the words she wants to use, but she does know that her attempts do not look right. As much as her teacher encourages her to be a brave speller, to stretch out the words and listen to the sounds… my daughter sits frozen in fear of doing it wrong.  Any writing she does at home is punctuated with repeated requests of Mommy, how do you spell this and Mommy, how do you spell that?

Sound familiar?  This is a common issue in primary students.  I have seen so many students struggle with the idea of brave spelling.  Like my daughter, they want to get it right.  How can we help these students overcome their fear?  How can we convince them to just give it a go?

Encourage Play

We have a set of Alpha Robots tucked away in a toy bin at our house.  The set consists of 26 little robots (well, 25 in our house because the W robot is missing).

Robot Letter 2

Each robot also transforms into a letter of the alphabet with a few simple pushes and clicks.

Robot Letter 1


My daughters pulled the robots out of a toy bin last week.  They transformed the robots into letters and back again.  They lined the robots up for the pretend bus for a pretend robot field trip.  They threw a robot birthday party.  Then, I noticed my oldest daughter using the letters to spell words.  I immediately jumped at the chance to have her practice some inventive spelling.

“Can you spell pot?” I asked her.  She did.

“Can you spell chin?”  She tried.

I couldn’t believe her willingness to spell word after word.   She never grumbled.  She never got frustrated.  She never asked if a word was right.

It made me wonder if putting pencil to paper feels too permanent for her.  It made me wonder how often she gets the chance to play with words using blocks or magnets or popsicle sticks at school.  It made me wonder if writing feels scary to her.  (Like it does for the rest of us sometimes.)  It makes me wonder how we can make writing feel playful.

Celebrate the Attempt

Last week my daughter came home with this paper:

Maddie Paper

I immediately hung it on the fridge and praised her attempt at writing words.

“Do you feel proud of yourself, honey?” I inquired.

“I got three wrong,” she answered.

Ugh.  My heart sank.  It made me wonder if the giant pink smiley face might have been enough feedback for my daughter on this paper.  It made me wonder if, for now, we could just celebrate the attempt without correcting the words for conventional spelling.

I was reminded of a video I once watched on The Teaching Channel in which a math teacher chooses her favorite mistake each day and shares the thinking behind the mistake with her class.  She calls it My Favorite No. Perhaps we could open writing workshop each day by highlighting the misspellings of some brave writers.  We could call it: My Favorite Brave Spelling.  We could celebrate the attempt.

I know I can’t rid my daughter of her perfectionism.  (It may be genetic after all.)  However, my daughter – and hundreds of other students just like her – can benefit from classrooms that encourage playfulness and celebrate the attempts of such brave writers.

(Click here to read Beth’s post on inventive spelling from our archives.)