If you have a new writer, you’ve likely noticed that some of the words she’s writing use very creative spelling choices. This is called invented spelling, and it’s a natural part of writing development!
As children are just beginning to learn phonetics, it makes sense that they would write words the way they sound phonetically — especially with a language like English, which has a lot of spelling rules that can be difficult to decode for little ones. Using invented spelling means that your child is learning to trust her ear and truly writing the sounds she hears.
Invented spelling with beginning writers is something to be celebrated, not corrected! Most of their writing will include what some would call “misspelled” words — but they’re not misspelled. They’re spelled just the way they sound, and that is how word building is meant to begin. Letter reversals and invented spelling are actually signs that your young child is right where she needs to be: becoming familiar with letter shapes and learning to trust her ear.
Trust the process, trust your child, and choose modeling over correcting every time. The understanding of conventional spelling will come with exposure and practice, but your child’s confidence in her ability to write will be diminished if you are constantly correcting or questioning her work. How would you feel if you worked really hard at something and then someone told you all the ways you messed up? Would you ever try it again? Don’t squash that urge to write just as it’s beginning.
So what do you do if…
…you can’t read what your child wrote with her invented spelling? Do your best. Remember that she wrote it phonetically, so go back to the basic sounds. Or ask her to read it to you!
…your child asks if she spelled it correctly? If she’s 6 and under, ask her to separate the sounds she hears and check if the letters she put match those sounds. “It looks like you heard all the sounds!” If she is over 6, show her how to look it up in the dictionary.
…your child is using invented spelling over and over again and she’s over age 7? Once your child is a more fluent reader, you can begin introducing conventional spelling. If there’s one particular word that she just keeps spelling phonetically, show her that word in a book so she can begin to make the connection between the conventional spelling and that word. After age 7 is when most schools begin introducing lists of spelling words and teaching conventional spelling words, and that’s when it is more appropriate to work on conventional spelling over invented spelling.