Beverly Cleary’s much beloved character Ramona Quimby has charmed the lives of many.
Ramona books have always stayed relevant to children because of her uncanny way of representing the obstacles, questions, and point-of-view of children. Cleary understands the interworking of a young child’s mind and most children can identify with at least one of Ramona’s experiences. In our daughter’s case, she relates to Ramona’s challenges with spelling.
In the book Ramon’s World, she is asked by her teacher on the first day of 4th grade to write a paragraph about her summer vacation.
“My name is Ramona Quimby. I have a baby sister. She is cute. She screems if she is hunrgy.’ Ramona paused. Screems looked peculiar. Maybe it was spelled with ea instead of ee. Oh, well. Anyone would know what she means. She had so much to say she did not want to waste time spelling.”
Her well-meaning teacher confronts poor Ramona in front of her fellow 4th graders for her creative way of spelling. Ramona flushes with embarrassment and pronounces herself a terrible speller.
My soon-to-be third grader—much like Ramona—is a strong reader. She breezes past challenging words, like administration or ritual, without the slightest hesitation. She baffles me with her strong ability to both read and find meaning in our complex language. I recently overheard her telling the story of Queen Elizabeth to her friend, while they drew pictures of purple cats and pink castles. Knowledge she obtained from reading.
Her disconnect exists in her ability to communicate her thoughts and ideas in written form. My husband and I frequently review her writing to find that she—among other errors— consistently misspells the word read as rede. She has read this word aloud to us hundreds, perhaps thousands of times without wavering. She does not recall the exact spelling of the word “read,” or the rule that it follows, so she defaults to a strategy called inventive spelling. She “invents” the way she thinks the word is spelled, much like our friend, Ramona.
It seems logical to conclude that my daughter will become a naturally good speller because she is an avid reader. But that’s not always the case. Studies show that children, regardless of reading ability, greatly benefit from a structured approach to learning to read and spell.
The International Dyslexia Association explains, “Structured Literacy prepares students to decode words in an explicit and systematic manner. This approach not only helps students with dyslexia, but there is substantial evidence that it is effective for all readers.” My daughter needs a bit of one-on-one time to help exercise and grow her spelling muscles. She knows because of characters like Ramona that it’s okay to struggle and we’ll get through this together.
🏠 How do I implement spelling instruction at home?
Good question. We as parents can make piles of flashcards and ask our children to memorize each one. I made this mistake in my first years of teaching, and my students loathed making and reviewing flashcards. I also found that when they memorized words, they were not able to retain them longer than a week or so.
Alternatively, you can introduce word patterns to your child and sequentially build on their previously learned knowledge. For example, start with the something basic, the word “ten” and gradually build longer words, such as “tenth.” Combine instruction with hands-on activities they can touch and feel, like letter tiles or sandpaper letters. The kinesthetic component helps to cement knowledge into their long-term memory and create stronger neural pathways in the brain.
The Literacy Nest has great tutorials on how to conduct multisensory spelling activities.
📚 Where do I find books and materials to guide us?
Richland Library’s Education Studio has a carefully curated collection of books and materials, including letter tiles and sandpaper letters, specifically selected for children who struggle with reading, and in our case, spelling. Our Children’s Room Reading Specialists will help guide you selecting the books that will best fit your needs, and explain strategies you can use to help your child at home.
🌞 Where do I go from here?
The school year’s hustle and bustle keeps working parents, like me, short on time to reinforce spelling and reading skills at home. Parents are juggling so many balls—from dance class to basketball practice—that it is hard to squeeze in time for one more lesson after a long school day. The precious months of summer are the perfect time into dive to working together at home. Remember to take it one-step at a time.