Why some kids struggle with spelling

At a glance

  • It’s common for young kids to make spelling mistakes.

  • If kids struggle with reading, writing, or focus, it can affect spelling.

  • There are ways to help your child get better at spelling.

When you look at your child’s writing, how many spelling mistakes do you see? How often does your child lose points because of spelling errors?

Some people see kids make lots of spelling mistakes and think it’s due to laziness. It rarely is, though. Kids might study hard and still fail spelling tests or write with lots of misspelling. So why does that happen?

Read on to learn why some kids have trouble with spelling.

What trouble with spelling looks like

When kids struggle with spelling, it doesn’t always happen in the same way.

Some kids make mistakes across the board with all kinds of words. Others mainly have trouble with certain types of words. And some make the same mistake over and over, no matter how many times they’ve been corrected and taught the right way to do it.

Keep in mind that early readers and writers aren’t going to have perfect spelling. Kids in kindergarten might spell most words wrong, and that’s OK. Reversing letters, like confusing b and d, is also very common in early readers and writers.

And as late as second grade, you might see schoolwork that has all kinds of creative spelling. Some schools encourage what’s called “kid writing.” They want kids to get comfortable with writing and not worry about spelling rules. Checking in with the teacher is the best way to know if there’s anything to be concerned about.

As kids get older, though, there are some key things to look out for. When kids have trouble with spelling, here are things they may do:

  • Write slowly

  • Only write a few words, even when they have more to say

  • Use the wrong spelling when words sound the same but have different meanings, like sale and sail

  • Easily forget spelling rules

  • Mix up the letters in words

  • Not notice spelling mistakes

  • Misspell the same words in different ways

Struggling with any skill or task can be stressful. Kids with spelling challenges may show signs of stress or frustration. That can happen when they’re writing — and even when they’re not. Kids might refuse to do their homework or avoid it. They may complain about not feeling well and ask to stay home from school.

What causes trouble with spelling

Spelling involves different skills. If kids struggle with those skills, it can impact their spelling. Here are some common difficulties that create spelling challenges:

Trouble with reading. Kids who struggle with reading often have a hard time recognizing the sounds in words. That makes it hard to spell them out. Learn more about trouble with reading.

Trouble with writing. Some kids have difficulty writing words, whether by hand or typing. They may misspell the same word in different ways. Learn more about trouble with writing

Trouble with focus. Difficulty paying attention makes it hard to remember spelling rules. It can also keep kids from noticing spelling mistakes. Learn more about trouble with focus.

If you’re concerned about your child’s trouble with spelling, talk with your child’s teacher. Teachers can be a great source of insight. They can also make suggestions for what might help.

Find out what questions to ask the teacher the next time you meet or communicate. That might be at a parent-teacher conference or at another meeting you set up. You could also connect through email.

How to help your child get better at spelling

There are simple, inexpensive ways you can help your child, especially when you know what the challenges are. Here are some examples:

  • Look into pencil grips to make it easier to hold a pencil correctly.

  • Learn about brain breaks to help your child refocus when studying.

  • Encourage your child to slow down when writing and to proofread the work.

  • Try to spend extra time practicing sight words with your child.

  • Check out fun ways of helping young kids learn to write.

Struggling with any skill can make kids feel bad about themselves and lose confidence. There are things you can do to keep your child feeling motivated and improve self-esteem.

Learn about how to give praise that builds self-esteem. And let your child know that everyone has challenges, and that you’re there to help.

Key takeaways

  • Early readers and writers aren’t going to have perfect spelling.

  • Spelling involves lots of skills. As kids get older, they struggle with it for different reasons.

  • Talk with the teacher to find out if your child’s spelling is a concern.


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