Question: A practical question concerning early literacy. When children (age 6-7) are expressing themselves in written texts that are technically (spelling) too difficult they often write mistakes. What should teachers/parents do best (next to showing their appreciation, applauding the attempt and stimulate the child for their ability to start his or her written communication skills)? • Ignore the spelling mistakes not to discourage the child and stimulate the effort • Correct all the spelling mistakes and risk to take the child’s motivation away Lots of teachers and parents find it very difficult to ignore spelling mistakes, even in words that are far too difficult for the child at that time. What is the risk in early literacy when children write/read spelling mistakes in their process to learn how to write correctly? Will they go into ‘automatisation mode’ and remember the wrong spelling even in words that are far too complex for child’s development? Will the mirror neurons play dirty tricks? Should we allow children only to write what they can spell correctly? What about the joy in writing? Should we put the emphasis on the communication aspect in writing or more in the technical aspects? To be clear: the question involves only SPELLING mistakes in EARLY literacy. Thanks a lot for your views on this topic (and sorry for spelling or other mistakes as English is not my mother tongue)

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  1. Children learn best when they are supported to reach just beyond their current ability. Going through spelling corrections which are in words which are far too difficult for the child and which address sound to written correspondences which are yet to be taught, is unlikely to be helpful.
    My advice would be this. Firstly, identify whether the misspelled word is one that the child would be expected to know or not.
    If it is outside of the taught curriculum I would take a look at the child’s spelling. Can it be easily corrected? If not and if it addresses concepts which are yet to be taught, I would leave it.
    For words the child should know I would ask the child to reread the misspelled word and then take a look at the cause of the mistake. Is the word being pronounced incorrectly? Is there a rule/correspondence that needs clarification? Is there an error in terms of how the word is being segmented?
    When children write freely they are very likely to make spelling mistakes. As long as they are making appropriate progress and given multiple opportunities to practice age appropriate correct spelling, I cannot see that free writing which has some spelling errors for unknown words (particularly if using phonetic spelling) is problematic.


  2. I’m afraid I’m not an expert here and I’m sure someone with more knowledge will be along soon. I would think that at this age phonetically sensible (as opposed to correct) spelling would be acceptable and that the push for ‘correct’ spelling of irregular words would be more appropriate at 7+.

    Slightly off topic but there is some evidence that there are cultural differences in that children in the UK are taught letter sounds whereas US children focus on letter names. This makes some words easier to spell for UK children e.g. they are less likely to spell ‘cake’ as ‘cak’. Here’s the paper reference: Treiman, R., Stothard, S. E., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Instruction matters: spelling of vowels by children in England and the US. Reading and writing, 26(3), 473-487.

    Interesting question!


  3. I would leave the spellings!! Doing something active – like writing – is one of the best ways of actively constructing knowledge. Getting children used to writing, and happy to play around with new words, is far more important than correcting every spelling mistake. There will be plenty of time for those details, provided that the child initial enjoys writing and gets used to it.