Why spelling can help your child learn to read

Posted by Catherine Young Morris on

Is spelling your child's missing multiplier? You may have noticed that we designed Practice Readers Books texts for both reading and spelling practice. For words to be effectively stored in memory, the sound, meaning, and spelling of the words must all be interlinked.[1]  Think about that for a minute. For it to be otherwise seems unlikely.

Yet for many of us, spelling evokes memories of mindless and futile exercises in random word list memorization (it certainly does for me). It doesn’t need to be that way though. Our children lose out if we only focus on word reading.

Check out the following list of ideas to support the ‘triple threat’ of reading skill development:  sound, spelling, and meaning.


  • Model sounding out letters, syllables, and words both when spelling and reading even if your child has little to no alphabet knowledge.
  • Encourage your child to sound out words to the best of their abilities and come up with a spelling that matches the sounds, even without any written text in front of them.
  • Encourage your child to sound out words and read aloud with you
  • Play rhyming and other similar games that help your child recognize the different speech sounds.
    • Read a wide range of written materials (e.g., magazines, menus, billboards). This will help your child learn that the same word can be used in different contexts and learn new vocabulary.
    • Be a detective. Talk about the meaning of words with your child (e.g., TV, radio, song lyrics, everyday conversations).
    • As my mother always said, ‘Why don’t you look it up?’ Model curiosity by looking up words whose meanings you or your child are less or unfamiliar with and discuss their meaning. A children’s dictionary that your child can begin using as their alphabetic knowledge develops can be a great investment.
      • Remember, you don’t need a pen and paper to spell! Thinking through sound-letter relationships and visualizing word spellings makes for a great driving or waiting room activity!
      • Encourage your child to break down the sounds in a word aloud. Then, get them to write down the spelling of the word to the best of their abilities, even if their alphabet knowledge is limited.
      • Give your child encouraging feedback on their writing based on their current alphabetic knowledge. Pay close attention and celebrate correct letter-sound relationships, even if the accepted spelling is not used. Your child has a lot to learn, and learning takes effort. It’s important to reward that effort.
      • If part of a word’s spelling is atypical or an exception, explain that and tell your child what the typical spelling is. Then, get your child to write it down to practice the word’s correct spelling. Explain that words often have standard spellings that make it easier for people to read and understand written language. Statements like, “Great job. You spelled that just as it sounds. The usual spelling of this word is….” give a child good information, while remaining encouraging.

      And of course, celebrate and encourage your child’s efforts. You are your child’s number one cheerleader. Learning takes time, and the more they enjoy practicing, the more they will make progress!

      Check out this free practice resource:

      Is your child entering second grade next year? See if they're ready with this easy screening activity via Psychology Today.   

      [1] If you are interested in learning more about how the ability to recognize and recall written words develops, Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching (2019) by J. Richard Gentry and Gene P. Ouellette is an excellent and accessible read.