Inventive Spelling Can Help Children Become Confident Writers

Young kids enjoy expressing themselves and exchanging ideas. When they first begin writing, they frequently seek assistance with the age-old question, “How do you spell…?”. It is easy to fall into the trap of answering that question when your child is so earnest about getting his message onto paper.

This practice, however, has the potential to backfire in a number of ways. When parents or teachers call out the correct letters to a word as their child writes each letter, they deny their child the opportunity to solve his problem by applying what he has learned about letters and sounds, they interrupt his thoughts.  They take some ownership of the project away from the child, and they diminish the opportunity for their child to solve his problem by applying what he has learned about letters and sounds.

What is Inventive Spelling?

Invented Spelling

Encouraging your child to use inventive spelling is the solution to the problems created when children ask you to spell for them. Inventive spelling is the process of listening for the sounds in words and writing letters to represent those sounds. When young children begin this process, they often hear and identify only a few of the sounds in words – usually the beginning sound(s) and some ending sounds.

For instance, the sentence I LIKE RAINBOWS may be written like this: I L RB. As a child learns to listen for and identify individual sounds in words, he may indicate the same sentence like this: I LK RNBZ. Long vowel sounds are often added next, so as his skill develops, he may write:  I LIK RANBOZ. A child has used inventive spelling successfully when he can accurately “read back” his intended message. With practice and experience, adults also learn to decipher their child’s invented spelling message. We, as adults, must learn to embrace children’s non conventional way of writings so that they will be encouraged to use writing to express themselves and grow in their interest in writing.

Why is it Important to Encourage Invented Spelling?

It is often helpful for an adult to correctly write the intended word under the child’s attempt so that the word to be accurately identified at a later time. I always asked a child for permission to write on his paper and then did so only when I knew that the writing would be difficult to recognize later. I never had one child refuse to let me write on his work. And I always wrote in pencil in small letters so that my writing had minimal visual impact on the child’s work. As the school year progressed, children proudly recognized that fewer and fewer words needed to be written on their pages.

Allowing children to write is the only way we can assist them become proficient writers. Writing can be done for a variety of reasons, on topics that the children choose and for audiences that they are familiar with. If they utilize invented spelling, young children have minimal issue writing. Invented spelling helps them to sound out words without having to worry about regular spelling.

Read also: Unschooling: The Natural Way of Learning

Parents often wonder if encouraging children to spell “any way they want to” inhibits the learning of conventional spelling. My resounding answer to this question is “No!”  Children want to spell correctly and often memorize the correct spelling of frequently seen or favorite words, including family names or words such as love, mommy, daddy, baby, etc. Rather than inhibiting conventional spelling, inventive spelling encourages writing and smoothly leads into conventional spelling. For instance, early reading words with the C-V-C (consonant-vowel-consonant) configuration can be correctly spelled by carefully listening for each sound in the word, which is the process used when writing words with inventive spelling.

How To Teach Your Child To Write

This book has many writing prompt worksheets which provide fun opportunities for children to write. You may wish to read several writing prompts to your child and allow him to choose one. Your child may want to talk aloud for a moment as he thinks about his answer to the writing prompt question. Then direct him to begin by first drawing a picture that illustrates his response. Allow about 5 – 10 minutes for the drawing. Additional details can be added later.

Next ask your child to “show his words” by listening to the sounds in each word and writing the letters that represent the sounds he hears in the words. I intentionally use the phrase “show your words” instead of “spell your words” because young children know that they cannot spell most words with conventional spelling. They are much more comfortable writing independently when they realize that conventional spelling is not expected at this time.

When your child is finished writing, immediately ask him to read his words to you. (Children can sometimes forget what they have written after some time has elapsed.) To demonstrate respect for your child’s work, ask his permission for you to lightly write the correctly spelled word under any word that will not be deciphered at a later time. There is no need to correctly write words that you could make out on your own (LV for love or SKL for school, for instance).

How Parents can Learn about Invented Spelling

Parents should also be aware of the many developmental patterns that occur in young children who use created spelling so that they can assist their children grow as writers alongside us. Encourage your child to return to his illustration and add details and color. Often the details help spark a child’s memory as he attempts to read his writing at a later time.

Read also: 11 Parenting Tips To Support Your Child’s Learning At Home

There are a variety of techniques that can be used to assist children become more conscious of the letters in words as they write. By listening to their stories and referring back to one of the words that has an obvious sound that was not written down, I assist them in developing their language. I point to the word and ask the kid to repeat it, urging that the child listen to the sound at the end or middle, depending on where he or she appears to be in the usage of invented spelling. Typically, the child will be aware of the required letter. I’ll then ask the child to fill in the blanks in the letter. I don’t make any notes in the children’s books.

I know you will enjoy hearing your child’s ideas and seeing his writing skills grow.


Sadie is a freelance writer documenting the adventures of downsizing from the family home in the suburbs to a mountain cottage in the woods. She share the downsizing details, scoutings of the mountain locations, and her never-ending search for the perfect T-shaped clothesline.

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