Invented Spelling, Nonsense Words Strengthen Literacy

Q: What do you think about “invented spelling”? I feel that it will affect children’s spelling later on and that it is better to correct them instantly so that everyone can read what they have written.

A: Relax! Invented spelling will not affect correct spelling. Rather, invented spelling encourages children to get their ideas down on paper when they don’t know the standard spelling of a word. This is one of its major benefits. Without invented spelling, young children would not be able to write more than very simple sentences such as “The cat is fat.” With invented spelling, children are able to write more complex sentences.

Besides benefiting writing, invented spelling even has a positive impact on reading. Plus, teachers can look at children’s invented spelling and assess how much they know about the individual sounds that make up words. It then lets teachers adjust instruction to what students need to learn.

Invented spelling helps children learn strategies that they will use as they get more formal spelling instruction. It encourages them to take an active role in their knowledge of spelling rather than only learning about spelling from direct teacher instruction. Invented spelling begins to disappear as children start reading and turns into correct spelling as children’s knowledge of letter/sound relations increases.

Q: My granddaughter is repeating first grade because she has problems with reading, especially nonsense words. What are nonsense words? I would love to be able to help her.

A: Nonsense words are words that have no meaning (mog, moof, plizzle). Children should be able to sound them out and say them using their knowledge of phonics. In fact, the ability to do this is one way to distinguish the difference between good and poor readers.

Because your granddaughter cannot read nonsense words, she probably does not have a good grasp of the relationship between letters of the alphabet and their sounds or the ability to easily blend sounds to form words. These skills are the building blocks for reading and spelling.

You can begin to help your granddaughter develop a better awareness of sounds by reading books to her that have many rhyming words. Stop frequently and ask her to tell you if two words (hat, sat) rhyme. It takes considerable practice for young children to learn the sounds of letters. Make this fun for her by looking for books in which the initial sound of many of the words is the same. For example, the book Four Fur Feet is a good way to work with the “f” sound. And Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z would use beans, bananas and beets for “b.”

Games are another good way to teach letter sounds. For example, place a number of objects that begin with the letter “b” in a bag along with a few beginning with another sound. Have your granddaughter try to find the ones beginning with “b.” Work only on one letter at a time until it is mastered.

Q: I am trying to be involved in my son’s education so I joined the PTA and have volunteered some at school. Exactly what are the benefits of this involvement?

A: Joining the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) offers far more than many parents realize. Working with other parents who have a vested interest in their children’s school gives you the chance to discuss concerns you may have about the school or your son’s education. When issues are discussed in a group, you are able to attract more parents to help address concerns.

Furthermore, the school administration is much more likely to listen to a group of parents rather than just one or two. Also, you will be able to join smaller focus groups to work on specific problems that you are interested in. Committee work lets you play a role in making decisions about what goes on at your children’s school.

When you volunteer to help at school in any way —from programming computers to sewing costumes for plays — you are truly helping the school. Plus, when you join a special committee, you will start to see how the school works. And getting to know the teachers in informal situations can improve your relationship with them when you are dealing with situations affecting your children.

Whenever you attend an event at your children’s school, you have the opportunity to meet other parents. This can be an advantage in gaining more information about the school and your children’s teachers and classes. Events from game nights to rummage sales provide an additional opportunity to meet with the teachers and administration informally.

Choose events and volunteer opportunities that are important to your child and are interesting to you. This sends your children and the school the message that you really care about your children’s education.

Parents can send questions to Dear Teacher, in care of Carolina Parent, P.O. Box 395, Carmel, IN 46082-0395 or