Okay, so how do you teach a child to spell when he can’t even write yet?

Peanut is one awesome little dude. He is social. He is fun. He loves to laugh at silly shows and sillier jokes. He is sweet and loves to cuddle up and get hugs. He loves interacting with the world around him. He makes friends wherever he goes. Oh, and he has Autism, Pervasive Developmental Delay to be exact.

What does this mean to us? It means he’s a bit behind with some things that his peers excel at. He doesn’t show fear like they do. His play is a bit less advanced.

Academically, Peanut is very bright. He loves science and math. He loves STEAM (Science, technology, engineering,art, and math) and would gleefully build things for hours. He loves to figure out how things work.

One problem we have with Peanut is that he’s about 4 years behind with his pencil grip, his fine motor control just isn’t there yet.

Image result for stages of pencil grip

He holds his pencils, markers, and crayons in the Cylindrical Grasp. I can sometimes get him to use the Tripod grasp, but the effort for his little hand muscles is too much after a few short minutes, so he reverts back to the more comfy Cylindrical Grasp again.

What does this mean? It means he can’t write yet. He can’t draw yet. He can pretty much just scribble on the page. Below is an illustration of the various stages a child goes through while learning to draw. Stage one is just scribbles, while stage 9 is a fairly detailed, recognizable drawing.

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Most 5 and 6 year old kids draw like the illustrations in box 8 and 9. Peanut is still at box #1.

So how do I implement a handwriting and spelling curriculum? Very carefully, keeping his limitations and abilities in mind.

I’ll start with spelling. How can you have your child spell words when they can’t even write the letters yet? This is easy… we use letter tiles! The Measured Mom has a wonderful free download of 8 pages of letters and letter blends. I printed them out on cardstock, colored in the vowels red with a colored pencil (you can use any color you like!), did the ‘poor man’s lamination’ of them by using clear packing tape on both the front and back of the cardstock. I cut out the little tiles, and voila! I now have a set of letter tiles. I’m even looking for some very thin magnets I can glue them to the back of the tiles so we can use them on a cookie sheet or the whiteboard, but no luck yet.

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Now we have our letters, Yay!

I use a combination of word lists from Spelling You See and the words from Alphabetti and The Reading Lesson. I keep the lessons short and sweet, doing between 3 and 6 words a day. We concentrate on the words he has difficulty reading, this helps him remember the individual letter sounds.

I prepare by getting the words we will spell (either the cue cards or the Spelling You See list) and take out all the letters we need to spell the words. Some days there are 8 tiles on the desk, some days there are 12. But only the tiles we will use that day are on the desk.

I ask Peanut to spell a word, usually without showing him the cue card. If he struggles, I help him by sounding out each letter in order very slowly. If he still has problems, I put down 2 cue cards and ask him to show me which word I was saying. If he still can’t spell it, I’ll put the cue card in front of him and he will now spell the word. I always ask him after he spells the word “what does this say?” and he tells me.

On really hard words that he struggles with, I put the cue card in front of Peanut and let his study it for a few seconds, then I ask him to sound out the first letter. He finds that letter tile and puts it on the cue card. Once he has spelled the word, he says it out loud. We repeat the trouble cards each day till he masters it.

I always end the spelling lesson with a word he knows well, and can spell without hesitation. Gotta end on a high note!

 

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We can use this spelling curriculum again to its full potential when Peanut is ready, but that may be a year or two from now. For now, the letter tile method is working very well!

I’ll post about handwriting next time.

 

 

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