An Introduction to Spelling for Kids

During the hustle and the bustle of preparing for the exams, spelling is often forgotten as a vital part of successful exam prep. 

Good spelling skills are important as they are the foundation of your child’s development.

Schools are now making an extra effort to help kids improve on spelling— they introduce phonics, homophones and various strategies to encourage developing skills from a young age.

 Most schools regularly conduct spelling bees, spelling quizzes, and there are also various spelling tests online.

However, we can still do a  lot more and this is why we have put together this guide, to introduce the ideas and principles that go into the foundation of your child’s learning.

Spelling words correctly can take a long time to develop so whether the exam is closing in, or your child is starting our in reception, we suggest that you start doing some regular spelling work at home. There are now various spelling apps for kids that you can easily access at your fingertips.

Also, the preparation for the 11 Plus exams is a long-term and ongoing process which is a good thing as it means that your child can study and learn everything in small, bite-sized pieces. Especially when it comes to vocabulary and spelling as these two are something they’d have to understand fundamentally as memorising would only take them so far.

So we prepared this article to help you understand how your child will learn to spell and all the factors involved.

What is Phonics?

Phonics refers to the process of teaching children to read by linking sounds and symbols. Phonics is the primary way to teach children how to read in the UK. 

Phonics enables children to develop their literacy skills and improve reading comprehension skills.

How is Phonics taught?

In the English language, words are made up of 44 sounds. Here’s a quick explanation of some of the key concepts and overview of some key phonics terms.

  • Phoneme – The smallest unit of sound. Phonemes can be broke up into vowel phonemes and consonant phonemes.
  • Digraph – A combination of two letters that work together to make the same sound (ch, sh, ph, th)
  • Grapheme –  A letter/number that represents a sound (phoneme) that’s either one letter or sequential letters. An example of a two letter grapheme is ‘leaf’. The ‘ee’ sound is expressed through the letter’s ‘ea’.
  • Trigraph – Three letters that work together to make the same sound (ear, air, ure)
  • Split digraph –  Two letters that work together and make the exact same sound, but separated by another letter. This aids children to distinguish between vowel sounds. Examples of this are cub/cube, cap/cape, tap/tape. This is otherwise known as the ‘Magic E’.

Children are taught a code which helps work out and decipher how to read words. Instead of being taught every word individually children are equipped with the skills to work out words and what they mean.

Below is an example of some phonics sounds in a simple digestible chart. The KidSmart team has separated the phonics sounds list into four different categories, each showing a different sound. 

What to expect from ages 4-11 with phonics?

The foundation of teaching phonics starts from an early age, as early as reception.

Age 4-6: At this stage of your child’s development they will utilise phonics skills that will help them spell words that they are not familiar with, and to help facilitate the learning for common and difficult words. 

The Year 1 phonics screening check is introduced during this period. The test is not formal and is consisted of two sections and 40 words to check your child’s progress. The exam aims to monitor the progression from reception to year 1.

Busy parents should consider using the plethora of apps that are now available. KidSmart, for example helps children from an early stage of their development and is a great supplement for your children’s learning. It’s important to make year 1 phonics activities enjoyable to keep your child stimulated in the learning process.

Age 6–7 

Your child will be expected to have developed some of their phonic skills and should be able to deal with more complicated sentence structures, have improved reading skills and better literacy

At this point, your child should have a better grasp of many common, and difficult words.


 At this stage, schools may introduce spelling tests, and introduce more complex homework for your children. Efforts should be made to monitor your child’s progress and assist with homework help where necessary.

Overall parents should keep their eyes on the year 2 English curriculum to get a deeper idea of how to cater to their child’s development.

Age 7–9 

Phonic skills should be used at this age to learn new words and develop their vocabulary. From the ages of 7-9 teaching on spelling patterns and the rules around them are introduced to equip children with the skillset to use when they encounter problems and difficulty.

Age 9–11 

From the ages of 9-11 with your child’s development underway, your child should be able to read, write and spell words of a higher complexity using their knowledge of phonics and how words are constructed and structured.

What are Homophones?

Homophones definition: Words that have the same sound and pronunciation but have different spelling and meaning.

Homophones are usually included in the verbal reasoning tests— it’s important to grasp these concepts at an early age.

A lot of homophones are also quite complex than the others. These complex homophones are used to see which children have a more advanced vocabulary than others.

Homophones can be hard to learn and understand but you’ll find that once the child has understood how homophones work, they improve naturally.

The only other risk is that kids can hesitate and second guess themselves when they feel stressed and pressured on the day of the exam.

Here are some phonic words — many of these have come up in previous tests.

We suggest that you use each word in a sentence to show your kid the correct meaning of each word. In the below list we’ve outlined some homophones examples below:

Homophones List

Compliment, complement

Dissent, descent

Price, prize

Course, coarse

Whole, hole

Flair, flare

Due, dew

Stationary, stationery

Bale, bail

Roe, row

Loot, lute

Sheer, shear

Leek, leak

Hair, hare

Reading can be a lot of help as your child may encounter a lot of homophones through it.

So reading is highly recommended— as it should be.

How to Develop Vocabulary: 

Children aren’t born with vocabulary. It is something that develops and grows with them. And exams are just a small fraction for the reason why your kid should develop their vocabulary.

They need it to communicate well and be able to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

And here’s how you can help your child to develop their vocabulary:

  • Don’t be afraid to use big words when talking to your child They are naturally curious and there is a high possibility that they would ask what the word you just used means. They might even start to use it!
  • When they start to ask what the word means, use words that they’re familiar with to explain the word. When they say they understand it, ask them to describe the word using their own words.
  • The best way to develop and build your child’s vocabulary is still by reading. Even just 30 minutes a day is already a lot of help. Just to give you an idea, you can have them read you their bedtime stories and when they get stuck on a word, help them break it down and encourage them to say the word themselves.
  • You can also have your child tell you imaginary stories and you can ask follow-up questions that introduce new words to them.
  • You can also make use of word games like Scrabble and crossword puzzles to build their spelling skills and vocabulary at the same time.
  • Be gentle in correcting their mistakes. Your child should feel safe expressing themselves and know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Praise their attempts and use phrases like, “Did you mean…” or “I’m not sure I get it. Can you explain that to me again?”
  • Use the new words they learned at your home as much as you can so it’s reinforced.
  • You can also give your child a vocabulary list the size of 20 words each. This list should include easy and difficult words, and commonly misspelled words. Ask them to spell and define each word before they move on to the next word.
  • Don’t forget to have your child practice synonyms and antonyms, too! A dictionary is a great tool but make sure that they explain it in their own words.

What are the best spelling strategies?

Rainbow Writing

Rainbow writing makes spelling practice more enjoyable. Through the use of crayons and coloured pencils, children can create a rainbow style effect to help improve spelling and help it stick in the mind.

Sounding Out Words

When sounding out words, you say each word as slowly as possible (c…a…t), and then you say the words faster (cat). This process is called blending, words are blended together to form a sound. 

Peer Testing Buddy Work

Getting pupils/friends to test each other and practice together rather than a teacher. This puts less pressure on them and makes it harder for them  to remember words.

Pyramid Writing.

Pyramid writing starts with a letter and for each step of the pyramid, an increase in length by one letter. The letters can be rearranged but one letter can be added each round. 

The training for exams doesn’t just start when the time to take it is closing in. It’s a long-term and ongoing preparation so the best way to approach vocabulary is in bite-sized chunks. This way, the learning is more natural and practical, not to mention easier.

Common Spelling Mistakes 

There are words all teachers know that children usually struggle with— difficult spelling words.

However good the spelling program and however good the kid is, they might still get the following words wrong:

Bicycle

Business

Colleague

Conscience

Conscious

Desperately

Exhilarate

Fluorescent

Guarantee

Leisure

Mischievous

Nuisance

Persevere

Phenomenon

Receive

Rhythm

Scissors

Surprise

Unfortunately

Weird

Yacht

There are a lot more but these are just some quick examples.

How KidSmart can help?

KidSmart aims to improve spellings from reception, all the way through to year 6 and the 11 plus exams. At KidSmart, you have access to many great resources, such as these free exam practice worksheets.

Summary

Developing literacy and spelling skills is not an overnight process. 

It’s important that you give your child all the support that your child needs while also letting them do the work. When teaching spelling for children, the foundation of spelling is very important and they should be encouraged to begin spelling practice from an early age.

The key to doing well is all in the preparation. Good luck!