Monday, August 20, 2012

Mom, May I Do My Spelling, Please?

"Mom, May I do my spelling now, please?"

Those words are music to a homeschooling mom's ears, don't you think? I have been homeschooling for over thirteen years and teaching spelling has never been this easy and conflict free. 

With my first child, we "did school" at home for the first few years, using a boxed curriculum with set spelling lists and predictable (meaning boring) copywork and spelling exercises each week. It didn't take too long for my student to get tired of that pattern and start balking at doing formal spelling lessons. It eventually got so difficult, we dropped spelling altogether. Perhaps that was a bit chicken of me, but I had bigger fish to fry and computers have spell check, so I wasn't too worried about my (by then) upper level schooler's somewhat lazy attitude towards spelling.

With my second child, another son, I had another problem altogether. It wasn't the spelling he disliked, but the writing. A lefty who struggles to write almost anything just doesn't fancy tedious and repetitive lessons in a spelling book. Deferring to the Latin and Greek root studies and online programs seemed the route to go once he passed elementary school and so far that has worked well for us as he is a conscientious speller and is one of the sort that is bugged by the misuse of there, their, and they're.

With the Amigos rising into various grades in elementary school this year (K,1,2...all variable by subject, some higher, some lower depending, but this is an estimate), spelling is something we really need to get a handle on for the year. 

Ladybug (8) already has revealed herself to be another conscientious speller. She likes to "collect" words in her personal dictionary, and will look up proper spellings in the hard bound dictionary I gave her as a gift so she could look things up herself instead of asking me how to spell things (this was something she indicated she wanted to do).

Cowboy (6) is a guesser, and could use a little work on the basics. He reads like lightning, but will sometimes make up what words are if it takes him too long to figure it out. Or he will simply STOP and say he can't read anymore because it is too hard and let Ladybug tell him what the word is. He's not at all confident about his spelling the way he is with his reading and could use something to boost his morale in that area.

Firefly (4) is just entering the world of reading. She's a developing reader and can't do much beyond "me," "see," "mom," etc. But she is eager to write and spell and will draw pictures, then "write" what they are about. It's a bunch of letters strung together and they aren't actual words yet, but she is trying and is eager to learn.

Spelling City came along at just the right time. With preloaded lists, I don't have to do much work to get my kids on their way to better spelling. I was able to choose the Dolch Sight Word Lists to work on Ladybug's growing proficiency in spelling. She's a confident speller, and has her own spelling notebook-dictionary in which she writes words she learns (this is something she chose to do on her own to help her writing). She's working on the second grade lists, having worked her way through the lower lists.

For each lesson, she will listen to the computer read each of the words, spell it, and use it in a sentence. Then she can choose a game to play from the list shown on the screen below, before taking a quiz or test.

She LOVES the game HangMouse. She thinks it's a hoot that the cat starts to wake up (and might get are a mouse) if you miss guessing the don't want your mouse to get pounced on, so you'd better study hard and get all the letters in the words right! There are other fun games, too, though, such as Word Search, Unscramble, Alphebetize, Letterfall, Speedy Speller, Missing Letter, and Audio Word Match, so your child will be able to find something he likes just as much.

Cowboy is more random. By that I mean that he enjoys studying and learning by area of interest. Currently he is interested in all things scientific. He has a birthday coming up and wants only "explorer stuff." He has been donning his explorer vest and grabbing a magnifying glass and collection bag and going on nature walks lately. He's gotten a bit more bold about taking a notebook with him and writing things down when he sees them.

 I think the science lists that are available on Spelling City may be helping him feel like he can really try to spell harder words on his own. There are lists for math, science, geography, language arts, phonics, holidays, social studies (including the states and countires), sound-alikes, dolch words, abbreviations, word families, and sample lists by grade level.

Firefly is just beginning to learn to spell. She has been doing another reading program that has helped her jump on the phonics bus, and is excited to learn some simple word and sound blends. Because Spelling City allows you to fully customize your lists, I can choose the simplest words that she knows and allow her the fun of doing the same thing the "big kids" are doing each day. It gives her a little bit of practice, and she gets to look forward to her "school time" on the computer each day while I work with one of the other kids one on one. She pretty much has to stick to the Audio Word Match Game or the Missing Letter Game if she wants to do more than 'learn" her words by listening to them and hearing them spelled, but sometimes the others help her do harder games and she's getting a lot out of just being part of the group.

Another thing the teacher in me likes is the option to use Spelling City for more than just spelling. They also have a large selection of teacher resources available. There is a vocabulary option for premium members, which includes definitions, parts of speech, activities, and tests.There are also writing activities, and lessons on language arts topics such as analogies, antonyms, compound words, contractions, parts of speech, plurals and possessives, homonyms and homophones, syllables, synonyms, verb tenses, and figurative language available AND printable activity sheets and handwriting pages. 

The video lessons are simple and clear. They give just enough information to get your kids ready to complete one of the word lists available featuring the topic, then to play one of the games spotlighting that topic. There are also teaching enrichment activities listed if I want to expand the lesson. 

It is all very simple to use and access, once you spend just a little bit of time exploring the site (it took me about an hour one night after the kids were in bed to figure out all of the features and feel comfortable finding everything and being able to use it all easily). If you do have trouble figuring out how to use the program, there is a library of training videos available for viewing as well as an extensive FAQ section.

In my mind, though, the absolute BEST part of Spelling City is that it is FREE!! Yes, you can try out Spelling City, and very likely, use it all year to your satisfaction for FREE! You will be able to access the preloaded word lists, make your own, print up worksheets and handwriting sheets, and play spelling games all for FREE!

But wait, there's more! As if FREE! for all those spelling lists and games isn't good enough...If you would like to add all of the additional vocabulary and language arts video features that I mentioned, custom flash cards, individual student log ins, as well as the ability to save and track student progress and NO ADS, then all a Premium Membership will cost you is $29.99 per year for up to five students. Yes, that's not PER student, but for FIVE students. 

That is quite a great deal, and I think it is worth the investment for an online tool your children will benefit from and enjoy. My children are certainly happy we have discovered Spelling City, and when they are happy and enthusiastic about learning, I am happy.


If you want to see what other on the TOS Homeschool Review Crew had to say about this product, check out the Review Crew Blog.


Disclaimer: I received a free Premium subscription for the purposes of completing this review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions are my own or that of my family members who helped review this product.

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