If You Want Your Kid to Read, Encourage Them to Write – In Their Own (Misspelled) Way

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
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A new study shows that invented writing (or ‘riting’) helps kids become better readers

There’s a reason why reading is one of the famous three R’s – it’s super important (not to mention fun). By now, it goes without saying that reading opens the door to all kinds of things, whether it’s math or science or art. Since the beginning of time, parents, teachers, and researchers have been using all kinds of methods to teach young kids to read – from flash cards and sight words to phonetics and alphabet memorization. But as it turns out, the best way to get a child to read might not involve reading at all.

So what does work? Writing — with “creative” spelling.

According to a study published in the January 2017 issue of the journal “Developmental Psychology” found that invented spelling – rather than correct spelling – has a bigger impact on a child’s reading development than learning the alphabet or memorizing sight words.

In other words, as points out, “While writing has previously been thought of as a skill separate from reading, and one that can only be applied once a child has a basic grasp on reading, the new study suggests that writing and reading skills emerge concurrently, and that reading may actually rely more heavily on writing, rather than vice versa.”

The study included 171 children in their first year of school, who were assessed on oral vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, word reading and invented spelling. Then, about a year later, researchers evaluated their reading and spelling skills. As it turns out, encouraging kids to write early and often, even if that means using invented spelling – or as my kids’ teacher called it “brave spelling” — is key to reading development.

“The act of inventing a spelling greatly increases the child’s chances of breaking the code and learning to read by the end of first grade,” said J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. Gentry offers a complicated explanation involving neural pathways, but basically the old adage “practice makes perfect” holds some truth here.

“The human brain generally gets better at whatever it practices—including invented spelling,” says Gentry. “Reflection about how to spell a word allows the child to actively practice making decisions, rather than passively memorizing.”

Parents (and some teachers) might worry that encouraging a child to write words incorrectly will prevent them from learning correct spelling, but the researchers say the opposite is true. In fact, they found a direct path from invented spelling in kindergarten to conventional (i.e. correct) spelling and improved reading scores in first grade.

Dr. Gentry suggests that parents and teachers resist the urge to correct a young readers’ spelling and, instead, ask the child to read back what they wrote. In other words, we parents need to CTFD a little. The creative spelling our kids come up with isn’t harmful to their educational development; in fact, it’s helping them.

We often swoon and giggle over our kids’ hand-written notes that say, “I LUV U” or “MOM IZ PRETEE.” Now there’s an extra bonus for celebrating these notes and proudly pinning them to the refrigerator door. They aren’t just super cute; they’re also helping our kids become engaged better readers, too.

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