invented spelling

Yesterday Mr. T was illustrating some of his “galaxies”. These are the newest creatures to pop forth from his imagination, based somewhat on facts he knows about real planets and galaxies, and somewhat on the fascinating flotsam that collects in his brain. I asked if he wanted me to write down the galaxies’ names for him.

“Nah, I think I’ll write it myself.”

his galaxies

“That’s a great idea,” I said, and tried to bite my lips shut so I wouldn’t say more and undermine the whole endeavor.

It’s so fantastic when kids are willing to write words their own way, based on the sounds they hear and the letter combinations they remember. Back in my teacher days we called it invented spelling. It’s exciting because it frees kids up to write without the help of an adult–and helps them focus on words and learn conventional spelling more organically.

inventing spelling

I love this photo--you can see him saying aloud the sound he's trying to write.

Kids typically focus on consonant sounds first, and then start working with those baffling vowels. In the picture above you can see his Sombrero Galaxy, which he spelled The Sambro. (And it’s an actual galaxy name–did you know?) I was sitting beside him, and sometimes I helped him say the words slowly, so he could focus on the sounds. But mostly I tried to stay out of it.

Some kids don’t like using invented spelling. H hated it for a long time. He wanted his words to be right. And actually, thinking back, it makes sense. He’s always been a very visual learner. It probably bothered him to look at a word, and recognize that it was wrong.

I’ve also learned, through many years of eating my words, that it’s best not to push invented spelling. You know the theorem: the more you push, the less they want to do something. So I’ll keep biting my lips and only occasionally suggest that Mr. T write on his own. Maybe he’ll do it without any encouragement. But I’ll still take plenty of dictation. I made the mistake with my poor firstborn to assume that once he was proficient with writing, I was off the hook and he could do it on his own. The trouble with that notion is the writing becomes shorter and more limited because the mechanics of writing can be such a chore. Instead, if you’re occasionally willing to take dictation–¬†years¬†after they’re able to write on their own–kids will have the experience of writing the more developed, sophisticated work that their brains and imaginations are capable of.

the galaxies

But for now I’m just enjoying what Mr. T is doing. See that dark, scary creature at the bottom of the page? He’s Karpt, pronounced Corrupt.

I’m not sure which tickles me more–the name, or the spelling.

13 comments… add one
  • Carrie Jan 27, 2009 @ 12:07

    Hi Tricia,

    I love the galaxies, and the invented spelling.

    We just picked up a 96 color set of Dick BLick Graphic Designer markers and Jesse is going to town with aliens/robots.

    Let’s email each other and talk calendars about getting our boys together for a creature club.

  • Mariah@Playful Learning Jan 27, 2009 @ 12:17

    It is such a magical time…I have to remind myself to savor every moment of it. Thanks for sharing your insights on this incredible process.

  • suzee Jan 27, 2009 @ 22:16

    Hee hee. Not surprisingly, right?, Annie would not go for invented spelling, either. Not one bit.

    The lighting is so wonderful in your house. It looks like a magical moment.

  • melissa s. Jan 29, 2009 @ 9:14

    I love how his little mind works! What an amazing galaxy!

    I’m kicking myself right now, realizing that I made a big mommy booboo yesterday. Holden drew an egg after an experiment we did and wrote “Ag.” When I saw it, I was thrilled and excited (as was he) but proceeded to tell him how “egg” is really spelled. I hope I didn’t discourage inventive spelling for him forever.

    Anyway, thanks for this post. I’m learning something new every day. Especially those parts about keeping my mouth shut!

  • patricia Jan 29, 2009 @ 11:15

    Melissa, I hope you aren’t kicking yourself too hard. And I hope you noticed all the references to my own past mistakes in this post. Homeschooling is all about making mistakes and learning right along with your kids!

    The good news is that Holden was actually writing in his own spelling on his own! Lots of kids won’t even try that. Next time if he decides you should help him spell a word “right” encourage him to try it on his own, like he did when he wrote egg. And be honest: tell him you didn’t realize what a smart thing he was doing, spelling it himself!

    I have a book to recommend. Raising Lifelong Learners: A Parent’s Guide, by Lucy Calkins. Calkins has written many important books on the writing process for teachers, but this one is especially for parents. And it’s about all types of learning, not just writing. Its purpose is to help parents understand the little things that are foundations of later learning, starting with talking being the foundation of writing, which is a notion I wholeheartedly agree with! You can check out the table of contents on Amazon. (And you can buy it used there, dirt cheap.) To be honest, I haven’t looked at it in a long time, so I’m not necessarily advocating the book in its entirety, but I think there’s a lot of good stuff there.

    Here’s hoping for more ags at your house!

  • Barbara Jan 29, 2009 @ 19:52

    Thanks for sharing this. My daughter was one of those kids that entirely resisted inventive spelling, although she will now sometimes spell without help. I’ve been angsting quite a bit about her writing (or lack thereof) and lately on her awkward pencil grip. Your pictures help remind me to have developmentally appropriate expectations!

  • gina Jan 30, 2009 @ 9:30

    We are from Massachusetts and have a horrific Boston accent. My poor girls all have a terrible time with invented spelling- most times they’ve never heard the word spoken anywhere close to how it is actually spelt. It’s hard for them to make connections.

  • Wendy Jan 30, 2009 @ 9:49

    I just LOVE his artwork!!! I just can’t get over how wonderful and expressive it is! Looks like you’ve got an artist on your hands!

  • BobPixel Jan 31, 2009 @ 12:03

    His artwork shows not only his creativity and success at evolving a style, but also that you’re doing a great job. I love your photos, too.

  • Patricia Feb 4, 2009 @ 4:00


    Thank you for the nice mention and for stopping by my blog. I am so glad you did because now I’ve discovered yours and love it! Those drawings and words are so cute! My daughter does some of this invented spelling, and sometimes she even does invented writing, just letter without trying to write anything… they she’ll ask what it says!

    Have a great day!


  • Lori Feb 6, 2009 @ 19:06

    beautiful :^)

  • Pedro Mar 3, 2011 @ 13:10

    He holds his pencil interestingly. He rights neatly for his age though

  • patricia Mar 4, 2011 @ 21:57

    Interesting is one way to say it. There’s no changing him though. And surprisingly, he manages to draw and write in a very detailed way–even if it looks like he’s stirring a pot of chicken soup.

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