This week, I’ll be sharing ideas for how to make studying and homework more fun and engaging. Spelling practice seemed like a good place to start because most kids have weekly spelling tests, but few kids are psyched about spelling for its own sake.
After a long day of reading, writing, and listening so many kids would benefit from a more active approach to spelling word practice. Of course, there’s a line between engaging and distracting that varies from child to child. Let’s say a child is using play dough to form letters to spell out words. Some will do it quickly and easily, while others will get distracted by the feel of the dough or the formation of the letters. By the time they get done with an entire word, they’ve lost focus on the spelling of the word as a whole. The relationship between the activity and its intention has dissolved. What works depends on the child, their mood, and the moment.
Try out these activities on the days that your child needs a little more motivation to study their spelling words, or with words that are giving them a particularly tough time. To make sure that the activity is a good fit, check in with them after a few words by saying “What word did you just spell?” and “How did you spell it?” If they struggle to answer each time you ask, you’ll probably want to try a different approach, at least for the time being.
It’s also a good idea to give the kids a few minutes to freely explore whatever materials they’ll be using. It’s a bummer for them to get their hands on an exciting new material but immediately have to get down to brass tacks. Just five minutes of free play can make a big difference in getting them ready to learn.
Mermaid Fabric – This if fun stuff. If you haven’t seen mermaid fabric or “reversible sequin fabric” before, it’s just fabric that is covered with two-toned sequins. When lying one way, all the sequins are one color, but when flipped over, a different color shows – allowing you to “write” on the fabric by flipping the sequins with your finger. Kind of like writing on velour car seats in the 80s, but (believe it or not) more satisfying. I bought a yard at JoAnn Fabrics using a 50% off coupon, but I kind of wish that I would’ve just bought this pillow case on Amazon. Just a heads up – because of the “grain” of the sequins, it took a little bit of practice for my kindergartener to figure out how to flip over the sequins to form some letters strokes, but he still really liked practicing his sight words this way.
Gel in a Baggie – Squirt some dollar store hair gel, a few drops of food coloring, and some glitter (if you’re feeling fancy) into a gallon sized storage bag. Seal the top and have your child squish the bag until it’s well mixed. Squeeze as much air out of the the bag as possible, and lay on a flat surface. I like to tape the top and bottom of the bag to a table or tray to make it a little more secure, and then have kiddos write their words with their fingertip.
Water Paper – If you’ve ever seen a Buddha Board, this paper is similar, but without the frame or stand. You “paint” on it with water, and then watch as the words you’ve painted slowly evaporate. You could do the same thing on construction paper, but it would break down relatively quickly whereas water paper can be used again and again. I don’t think I’d buy the water paper for spelling practice alone, but if you also have a child that is just learning to write their letters, or a toddler that isn’t ready for actual paint, it might be worth it if it’s serving more than one purpose.
Shaving Cream – An instant classic! Put some shaving cream on a cookie sheet or tray. Let the kids spread it out flat and then write their words with their fingertips. When I did this with my classes in the olden days, I steered clear of menthol scented shaving cream because it could be a too strong for little eyes and hands.
Sand – A few years ago, my mom bought my kids several bags of colored sand and we use it for so.many.things. To practice spelling words, I pour a bit into a play tray and have the kids write their words with their finger or a dry paint brush. To keep it interesting, we sometimes mix in extras like glitter or googly eyes. If you don’t have sand – no problem! Rice and grains work just as well. If you’re like me, there are some lentils behind the peanut butter that you never got around to.
Keyboard – So simple, but kids love typing spelling words on the computer. Fun fonts make this one even better. I downloaded these free fonts for my kids that love Zelda and Frozen and they honestly think it’s the coolest. There are so many free fonts available, there’s a good chance that a quick google search will result in something that aligns with your child’s interests.
Large motor – At the end of a long school day, a lot of kids just need to get moving. In the classroom, we’d practice spelling words by acting out various scenarios while saying each letter of the word. For example, the kiddos would pretend like they were swinging a bat for each letter of a word and then shout the word they’ve spelled while they “run” the bases. I can’t find the exact list of activities that I used when I was teaching, but a teacher named Mrs. McDowell created these cards that should help you get started. Once the kids get used to the idea of this, they love coming up with their own actions. At home it might be fun to use props, like dribbling a ball each time they say a letter and then shooting a basket when they say the word.
In the Bath – It’s Thursday night, the spelling test is tomorrow and your child hasn’t studied their words all week? Been there! While they’re in the bath or shower, have them write their words with a tub crayon, or use the shaving cream trick above!
I hope you’ve found something useful here and that the next time your child has to practice their spelling words, but doesn’t want to you have a few new tricks up your sleeve.