Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Dear Carrie

Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Today was my son’s first day doing Bigger Hearts. He loved it, and so did I! He prayed prayers of thanksgiving to God at snack time and thanked me several times for homeschooling him. What a blessing!!! So, my question is about spelling errors. We did dictation, and he capitalizes letters that should be lowercase. Also, he writes letters backwards and forms them from the “bottom up.” Does he need to memorize spelling rules? He did that in the past, but it hasn’t really helped. Also, for any notebooking, Bible verse writing, etc. I was intending on making him do his “best” writing – correct capitalization, punctuation, neat handwriting. Today, when I did that, he almost cried! He said his teacher at school just let him write it his way. What do you recommend? Always their “best” work except journaling, or only the very best for certain things?

“Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors,”

I’m so glad that you had a good first day with Bigger Hearts. What a sweet story about your son’s prayer at snack time. That just blesses a mother’s heart, doesn’t it?!? As far as your question about spelling rules and errors, the spelling lists in Bigger Hearts are each designed around a word pattern (short ‘a’, short ‘e’, short ‘i’, etc.) Then, as you go along the patterns get into long vowels, vowel digraphs, etc. This is the way almost all spelling texts, public school or homeschool, are set up. We made our word lists from the Dolch and a large combination of other high frequency word lists. The goal in Bigger Hearts is to get kids to visualize the correct spelling and formation of letters in their mind.

Choosing Between Spelling Lists and Dictation Passages

If your little guy is still making errors like capitalizing letters in the middle of words and reversing letters, then he won’t be ready for studied dictation. Even if he can spell the words on the spelling lists with the right letters, if the letters aren’t written correctly (lowercase and facing the right direction), then he needs more practice with the spelling lists. He also needs to experience success!

What Charlotte Mason Has to Say About Spelling and Writing Errors

Charlotte Mason says one letter written correctly is better than a whole line of letters done incorrectly. So, I would go systematically through the spelling as it is set up in Bigger. I would do each of the cards and activities in the spelling box daily, taking a year to go through them all. Then, I would start dictation next year. The error of habitually forming the letters incorrectly takes time to undo, and if there are other learning issues there, it may never go away completely. But, you may surprised by his progress over time of following Bigger’s spelling lessons. I would encourage you to give it a try this year and see.

Inventive Spelling in Public Schools

As hard as it may seem, there are many public school teachers who don’t require the right spelling or correct copying of words by their students (often because they have too many kiddos in the class, or they have been taught that inventive spelling errors are okay). Either way, because of this, there are many children who are still using inventive spelling in middle school and high school! Inventive spelling has its place with little ones, but it is not meant to go on and on, or it will be habit forming. It does sound like this is part of the problem with your little honey.

What is the purpose for learning spelling words?

To me, it was a dawning to realize that many spelling programs or exercises where children are allowed to use inventive spelling, result in helping the child visualize the incorrect spelling! Eventually, the mind has seen words spelled wrong so many times that the wrong spelling looks right! Spelling is not as much of a “knowing how to spell difficult words” exercise as it is a “learning to see the word correctly in your mind and transfer it correctly to paper” type of exercise. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose for learning spelling words?” If kiddos can’t write them correctly on paper, does it matter that they can spell them orally? In life we are not called to orally spell words very often.

You can improve this pattern of spelling by consistently requiring correct copywork.

So, the best way to start correcting this pattern is by requiring slow, steady copywork from a model that is written correctly. You may need to write what he is to copy right on the paper and leave space underneath each line for him to copy directly beneath your text (matching it letter for letter). If your little guy is in tears over the amount of writing, then only have him copy the beginning portion of the text correctly, and then you can write the rest of it for him. A little bit done correctly is better than a whole lot done incorrectly. Over time, gradually increase the portion of the copying that he does, and decrease the part you do! You will see fewer and fewer errors!

Over time, steady practice with copywork will help your son visualize the correct spelling of words.

I would encourage you to see if you agree with what I’ve shared above. I know it was a “lightbulb” moment for me to read about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of spelling and copywork. It made much sense to me, as all of the students I’d had in school who didn’t spell well had trouble seeing the correct spelling. They couldn’t tell the correctly spelled words from the incorrectly spelled ones. Copywork and steady practice in visualizing correct spellings will help over time, but you will need to give it a year to really make a significant difference.


Inventive spelling… a do, or a don’t?

Dear Carrie

Inventive Spelling… a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?

I’m doing Beyond Little Hearts with my 7 year-old son. Occasionally, he will write something on his own, which will include a mix of properly spelled and misspelled words. I always praise him for his work, and I don’t make a point to show him his mistakes. However, for school I’ve noticed most of his writing is copywork. I know Charlotte Mason really stressed the importance of it. What were her thoughts on independent writing? Should I encourage him to write his own sentences and simple stories? I see that that is not being done in the Beyond lessons yet. Is that something that should be downplayed right now? What are your thoughts on this? Would allowing inventive or phonetic spelling undo the good work of copywork? Basically, is inventive spelling a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?


“Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling,”

Whether inventive spelling is considered a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’ is actually a common question! So, I’m glad you asked. As far as Charlotte Mason goes, she did not encourage original writing in the younger years. This was because she wanted the children to develop the habit of seeing words spelled correctly (mainly through copywork).

The habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome.

In my 11 years of public school teaching days, the new philosophy was getting kiddos to write as much as possible and all of the time… and don’t worry about the spelling. Inventive spelling was “in,” and children wrote volumes of incorrectly spelled work, which I could never get on board with!   As the years passed, teachers were discovering exactly what CM found… that the habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome. While some kiddos are naturally good spellers, the rest of the kiddos were developing terrible spelling habits and having no sense at all of what “looked right” anymore. So, when I headed into homeschooling and read more of CM’s philosophy, it really made sense to me in regard to inventive spelling in particular.

In general, I don’t correct “free-time” writing.

With my own kiddos I do not discourage them from writing original stories and sentences, and they all do it on their own during free time. Often great literature inspires them to be creative writers on their own. I don’t correct their “free-time” writing. Instead, I just try to compliment them on the content. If there is a glaring spelling error, I may point that out to be fixed.

Early writing in school is kept to the form of copywork, so inventive spelling is not used.

During school-time, we keep their early year’s writing practice to copywork. So, we do not use inventive spelling. Then, in grade 4 and on up, we begin moving onto some original composition, as planned in the Heart of Dakota guides. I do require correct spelling for school-related work. I’ll often write their ideas on a markerboard to be copied correctly. Likewise, I do check every paper they do during school time for spelling. Then, I do require correction. I write the correct spelling in pencil above the incorrect word (or in the margin). The kiddos then copy my spelling and erase my word, so only their corrected word remains.

There are many ways to approach inventive spelling, but the CM way has made the most sense to me.

I realize there are many ways to approach inventive spelling and that the CM-style of teaching spelling is just one way. But to me, it has made the most sense of any that I’ve tried.



Copywork of Excellent Passages Precedes Creative Writing

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Copywork of Excellent Passages Precedes Creative Writing

Charlotte Mason believed the initial step to becoming a good writer was to first copy passages of excellent worth. Rather than encouraging creative writing with inventive spelling, Charlotte encouraged quite the opposite. In contrast, Charlotte had children copy meaningful passages of literary worth, line by line while looking at a model. Then, after children had mastered the art of copying neatly and accurately, Charlotte introduced them to creative writing. However, she continued to have children do copywork of meaningful quotes, passages, Scriptures, and poems alongside their creative writing. At Heart of Dakota we embrace her philosophy! We first introduce copywork of excellent passages. Then later, we add creative writing alongside the continuation of copywork.

Carrie’s 15 Years’ Experience with Teaching Creative Writing in Public School Prior to Having Her Own Children to Homeschool

During my eleven years as a public school teacher, we did much creative writing with kiddos from very early ages. As the kiddos passed through the grades, we discovered that doing creative writing early often caused kiddos to form poor habits in punctuation and capitalization, while emphasizing invented spelling (because kiddos were too young to know how to spell correctly yet). Over time it was tough to undo the habits of incorrect grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling just for the sake of getting the written word on paper from an early age.

We also discovered that young kiddos often had trouble having any ideas about which to write. Even if they knew what they wanted to write, they couldn’t put it into words on paper. They hadn’t been exposed at that age to enough excellent writing to truly know what it looks like. We also found that those who had a God-given gift in the area of writing did well no matter how we taught writing.

Carrie’s Research of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy in Regard to Creative Writing

When we had our own children and moved into homeschooling, we read more of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. Much of her thoughts on writing made sense to me. So, now at Heart of Dakota we delay “creative writing” until kiddos have copied enough from excellent passages to know what good writing looks like and and have also begun to form the habit of correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Once the excellent foundation is laid in those areas in our younger guides, we move into formal lessons on writing written narrations. This begins in Preparing Hearts for His Glory. We also creatively write from poetry in Preparing Hearts, and then continue in that vein in Creation to Christ (adding a formal writing program at that point as well).

Carrie’s Own Children’s Experience with Creative Writing

My own kiddos are avid writers, pouring out “books,” letters, stories, and a love for the written word. They are inspired by the excellent writing that they have heard since they were young and automatically weave that into their writing. It is a stark difference to the struggling writers that I spent over an hour of my public school teaching day every day in a “Writer’s Workshop” session trying to get them to write anything of worth. I fully agree that an exposure to great literature and copywork of excellent passages eventually leads to good writing. We pray that you will find the same to be true for you!


Should my children do poetry copywork if they are doing Cheerful Cursive?

Dear Carrie

If my children are doing Cheerful Cursive in Bigger Hearts, should I still have them do the poetry copywork?

We are starting Heart of Dakota‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory on Monday. I wasn’t sure if I should have my kids do both the Cheerful Cursive and the Charlotte Mason copywork in the Poetry section. Even though we are starting cursive, their printing could still use some work. Should I do both? Or, is there enough other writing that they will still get enough printing practice? Thanks in advance for your help, and we can’t wait to start!


“Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Copywork and Cursive”

Dear “Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Poetry Copywork and Cursive,”

The choice of whether to do the poetry copywork in Bigger Hearts works well either way, as the poetry copywork is an optional choice if you’re currently doing Cheerful Cursive or Italic D. When we did Bigger Hearts with my second son, we did the poetry copywork in manuscript along with doing Cheerful Cursive. However, that particular son of mine loves to write. There is plenty of writing/copywork within Bigger Hearts, so if you have a child who does not love to write or is easily tired by too much writing, I wouldn’t do the poetry copywork. Instead, I would work toward fully doing the other assigned copywork in history and science and vocabulary.

What We Decided to Do with My Third Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my third son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I decided to do the poetry copywork in manuscript but wait on Cheerful Cursive. He just was not nearly ready for cursive. I based this decision on him having had some struggles with handwriting due to having surgery on the tips of his fingers on his left hand, as well as on us having to make him be a “righty” when he was obviously a “lefty”). Anyway, we added cursive for him the next homeschool year, when we came back to finish the rest of Bigger Hearts (at which point we decided not to continue with the optional poetry copywork in manuscript).

What We Decided to Do with My Fourth Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my fourth son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I chose a pace of half-speed with him. As I wanted him to continue practicing his printing but also begin learning cursive, I had him do both the poetry copywork and Cheerful Cursive. So, one day he did the poetry copywork, and the next day he did Cheerful Cursive. This way, I had him strengthening his fine motor skills by writing every day. So, there are many options to choose from, and I would choose which is best for each of your children doing Bigger Hearts based on their individual needs.



Why You Should Continue With Copywork Once Dictation and Written Narrations Have Begun

Dear Carrie

What benefits do you see for children to continue copywork once dictation and written narrations are well underway?

Dear Carrie,

The reasons for continuing dictation, oral narration, and written narration through the middle and upper years make sense to me. I myself have seen fruit from these methods! I’ve been grateful for how much they have helped my children in the process of learning to write. Copywork also makes sense to me in the elementary years, and it helped my 3 oldest when they were learning to write. One thing I don’t understood though is the continuation of copywork beyond 5th grade. I have noticed copywork continues through high school. What benefits do you see for children to continue copywork once dictation and written narrations are well underway?

“Please Help Me See the Benefits of Copywork for Olders”

Dear “Please Help Me See the Benefits of Copywork for Olders,”

This is an excellent question! Heading into upper levels of education, copywork begins taking on a new focus. As students copy from increasingly difficult narrative history books and classic literature, more in-depth elements are present. An author’s style, voice, word choice, descriptive language, use of humor, foreshadowing, mood, and important dialogue can be perceived. In essence, students are copying from great writers and beginning to internalize the author’s use of language.

Many of our founding fathers used this strategy.

This strategy was used by many of our founding fathers as part of their education and all through their lives. Benjamin Franklin was known for copying lengthy passages from the Bible and from Pilgrim’s Progress. He then later tried to write these verbatim, without looking at the model. Thomas Jefferson was also known to copy extensively from various works to internalize the material and note important phrasing.

Charlotte Mason advocated the practice of keeping a Common Place Book through high school.

High school students continue keeping a Common Place Book, selecting meaningful quotes or passages from classic literature for their book. Charlotte Mason advocated this practice throughout high school, and we feel it is an excellent use of students’ time. As students read, they watch for notable quotes or passages and select their favorites from among them. Finally, they copy them into their book for later reference, creating a ‘Common Place’ for their special quotes or passages.

Copywork of Scripture and poetry is especially beneficial.

Continuing copywork of Scripture is another area that is well worth the time spent copying. Within Heart of Dakota, students typically copy verses and passages that they have been asked to memorize. This makes the Scripture within their Common Place Books especially meaningful. Poetry is another area worthy of copywork. Poetry copywork reflects the structure of poems, the flow of words, the sentiments evoked, and the style of the poet.

Continuing copywork ensures students take note of excellent writing.

Copywork is such an overlooked skill especially as students begin doing more of their own writing. However, the inclusion of copywork in Heart of Dakota ensures students are continuing to take note of excellent writing. It keeps students watching how strong writers express themselves and thinking of ways they can imitate great writing. When students read and then copy from what they read, they remember better what was read. The quotes help the student recall the book to mind. So, there are many benefits to copywork all throughout life, no matter what age you are!