Why can’t we spell it correctly?

Josh is in first grade now, and starting to read chapter books.  He’s a massive fan of the Magic Treehouse Books, and I am too. I love that the whole point of them is to encourage reading, imagination and adventure. I love that many of the historically-themed books have “research guides” that accompany them. I love that the heroes, Jack and Annie, who are brother and sister, are capable of extricating themselves from the challenges placed before them. They’re straight-thinking kids who deal with their fears by using their heads and their resources. We’ve read several of these books together, and his class has been working their way through the series since September. I think they’re up into the 20’s by now.

He’s also reading The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes to me.  Each night, he reads a couple pages, and we’re about halfway through. He’s learning some pretty meaty vocabulary words from that, let me tell you! I love it.

He keeps bugging me to let him get Junie B. Jones, but I read the first one, and have dug in it.  Junie B. is a First Grade, First Rate Brat. She sasses her teacher, her parents, and her classmates. I get enough of that in real life. I don’t need that kind of behavior reinforced by the heroine in a series of books.

The other day, we ventured into our local library, and he chose the first Captain Underpants book. I’ve heard nothing but good things about these books – that they’re silly, and even though the artwork is “crude”, the stories are good. I disagree about the characterization of the artwork by the way. I’d call it “basic”, not “crude”. Yes, picking nits. But still. We started reading it tonight, and came to the first comic book in the novel. First, a synopsis… The book is about two fourth-grade wise guys, George and Harold. They’re best friends and enjoy a good practical joke. Together, they invented Captain Underpants, and began writing comic books, which they make photocopies of (by sneaking into the school secretary’s office and running them on the copier) and distribute on the playground. It’s a fun story so far.

Here’s my problem: These kids are supposed to be in fourth grade. But they CAN’T SPELL!! In the first frame of their comic book, they misspell “dispair” (dispare) and “superheroes” (superherose).  In the full seven pages of comic book hilarity, there are multiple misspellings: bilding, justise, cafateria, principel, nise (instead of nice. I repeat… They’re supposed to be in FOURTH GRADE!!), herd (instead of “heard”), and exsiting.

Now, I get it. This comic book is supposed to have been written by kids, and the author is trying to “keep it real”. But I know that I became really good at spelling, grammar and writing by reading really good books. Books that had big words like “justice” and “building” and “superheroes”, and they were all spelled correctly. Books that even had stories in it that were written by the characters, who were many different ages. And all of those words were spelled correctly.

Kids learn by reading. They absorb stuff that we don’t even know they’re absorbing. When you read a book, those words are carving themselves into your brain. Even if you’re not conscious of it, it’s making notes on how words are used, defined, put together, how letters relate to one another, and all kinds of things that we aren’t conscious of.  And when they’re regularly reading books that are misspelled, how can they learn?

Are we that concerned about reality, that we have to have misspellings in books? Is it a case of trying to “be friends” with kids? Or is it a case of, “we want kids who aren’t very good at spelling to feel like they’re validated”? I fear it’s the last, and I also think that’s a pretty pathetic reason to publish an entire series of books chock-full of misspellings.

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26 Responses to Why can’t we spell it correctly?

  1. SKL says:

    I wouldn’t mind it once in a while, but not every other word.

    In the Ramona series, in second grade, it talks about how Ramona had difficulty with spelling at school and how that was dealt with. Realistic, but not implying that spelling doesn’t matter.

    I haven’t had the pleasure of reasing Captain Underpants yet (though I know my nephew was into that series at one point – and he’s an extremely high achiever – so maybe the spelling isn’t a problem?)

    As an education student and author wannabe (sp?:), I read that kids’ writers usually use characters a couple years older than their target audience, because kids like to read about where they’re going rather than where they’ve been. So if the characters are 4th grade, the target audience is probably 2nd grade. So the spelling errors may not seem that age-inappropriate from that perspective.

    By the way, I can’t resist – what is “dispair”?

    Personally I don’t have much patience for crappy artwork in kids’ books. I think that would bug me more than the misspelling.

  2. Sue says:

    Spelling is so important, I think, that to put that many misspelled words in a kid’s book just does them a disservice. To read is to gain knowledge not bad habits so I say spell the words right and make it a more enjoyable book for everyone!

  3. Phyllis says:

    Personally I despise materials that contain misspelled words and/or bad grammar.
    I’m with Laura on this, it’s absolutely true that kids learn proper usage, meanings, and spelling by reading. You know back when my kid brother was in 2nd grade the school went through a phase when they were teaching kids to spell phonetically. What a fiasco! Then the 4th grade teachers marked every word that was misspelled in essays wrong and moaned because they had an entire class that couldn’t spell! What the hell was that whole exercise in futility about I wonder.

    I don’t think I’d buy a book that had misspelling in it, but that’s just me. It’s like allowing kids to say dese rather than these or fer instead of for. Ridiculous! 😦

  4. Ellen says:

    Laura, I loved reading your post. I do not see the point of misspelling words in a children book. It will give them an “okay” to misspell now and then also. I think you are so lucky having a child that loves reading so much. My oldest one read a lot of books, and understood the concept of reading very quick. The youngest one reads now a lot of books, but as a child, we had to sit down with him and read a chapter every evening.

  5. Phyllis says:

    My big pet peeve right now is when I hear someone say “these ones” or “those ones”. I spend a lot of time correcting my 16 and 21 yr old grandkids for that, but then the majority of adults say them as well. Frustrating!

  6. Phyllis says:

    I forgot to mention that I think I’ll pass on the advertised burgers! LOL!

  7. Ellen says:

    Because English is my second language, and I am just 2 1/2 years in this country, I tend to make mistakes quite often. I always ask my husband and my American friends to correct me when I say or write words/sentences wrong. My husband is correcting his 16 year old son often for his way of speaking the English language. What his son, and unfortunately also a lot of people we know say is : me and my friends are going….. my husband “hates” that. Not sure why they say that. I am sure they have learn at school it is my friends and I are going…

  8. Nikki says:

    You really surprised me when you said it was the Captain Underpants books, because Bailey read them, and I can’t believe he looked past that. LOL But he was rather young, and probably just got into the book, and didn’t pay much attention.

    No book, should ever have misspelled words in it, unless it has an excerpt, like from the diary of a child. But the words written by the author should always be spelled correctly. I can see a very occasion mishap, but that many?! No way. Reading is for learning, even if the book isn’t an educational one. You are using your brain, and learning words, especially for the younger kids.

    I’m so glad Josh loves to read. Keep shoving books in his face. lol Bailey reads ALL the time, hours at a time. He just finished his first Tom Clancy book and is hooked, so we have to go back to the library to find more of his books. Reading is the best thing you can introduce to your kids, and learning to spell goes right along with that.

  9. Joy says:

    I also find the spelling and grammar being…or should I say NOT being taught, appalling. This goes right along with not teaching cursive writing anymore. None of my nieces or nephews in high school now can read writing. Can you imagine??? Sorry, that’s another post!!!!

    Reading and spelling go hand in hand. I’ve been reading all my life. Really. From my earliest memories to now, I’ve loved to read and so much of what you read stays in your head. I don’t see how children’s books can misspell words and not be taken to task for it. I still remember some jingles and tricks to remember how to spell certain words like beautiful, or mountain. I read a book as a kid and the person in the book had a hard time remembering how to spell those two words and to this day I’ve never forgotten how to spell them.

    We remember everything we read even if we don’t know it so to do this to kids is really odd. Unless your child really reads a lot and overlooks those mistakes and really does know how to spell the words but Josh is in 1st grade, he can’t know how to really spell some of them can he? Wouldn’t it suck if by reading these words wrong, it could mess him up forever trying to spell them right? I think if I were you, I wouldn’t draw attention to how wrong it is and I’d see if he could not pay attention. He may overlook it and if you keep bringing it up, that may stay in his head and he’ll always wonder “is it this way or this way.” You know???

    Needless to say, I think this is a really bad idea for authors of children’s books to do misspell words.

    • Laura says:

      I bit my tongue when I was reading it to him. I’m hoping that he was looking more at the pics than at the text. We’ll keep reading it, since he’s chosen this series as one that I read to him… and he’ll keep reading Calvin & Hobbes to me. And C&H is WAY heavier on the vocabulary scale. ‘course, I may have to answer to the authorities if he ever draws pictures of dinosaurs crushing the school…..

  10. mssc54 says:

    Twice a week our little first grader has to write sentences using “inventive” spelling. In other words just write the letters of the sound in each word to the sentence you are making up.

    I luv petsu for dinr = I love pizza for dinner.

    Why can’t we spell? Because the kids are learning to spell the word improperly!!!

    • Joy says:

      I think that’s a terrible idea! What kind of teacher would do that?

    • Joy says:

      That looks like a text message I get from someone I know. This is SAD.

    • Nikki says:

      What the heck??? I have never heard that before. That is ridiculous!

      However, Jason does this…but he DOES know how to spell! LOL

    • Laura says:

      “Invented Spelling” was a concept that was big in the 80’s and 90’s, I think. Maybe even before that. I remember arguing vehemently with one of my Education instructors in college about it. How is a kid supposed to learn to spell correctly if we don’t give them the tools to do so, and allow them to continue making mistakes, because we don’t want to discourage them??? It is absolutely possible to correct mistakes without being discouraging. It just takes a little effort.

      Josh’s teacher uses a combination of techniques. When he’s spelling for an assignment that is something other than “Spelling”, like handwriting, she will correct misspelled words, but not penalize him for it, since that wasn’t the point of the assignment. Just like she will not penalize him for accidentally writing his 7 backward on a math test, if the answer was, in fact, 7. She will, however, write the number the correct way, so he knows he made the mistake. I’m fine with this, as long as the rules get more stringent as he gets older. He’s still in first grade, and still learning. But when he starts getting into even second grade, I expect a lot more from him.

      • Joy says:

        Spelling is all repetition as it is so no, it doesn’t crush them. Why are some people so determined that we are taking all our little darlings self esteem away??? It’s called learning. They used to fall down and then we picked them up!

        *okay, walking away*

      • Joy says:

        Oh, I think the “correcting” thing is good for first grade. Writing a number backwards or making a spelling error while “not in spelling” is very common for young kids. I can see just writing it in so they knew they made a mistake but not counting it wrong.

    • Phyllis says:

      Oh my goodness…..they’re doing it again! Wait til the class hits 4th grade! You know, my kid brother STILL can’t spell properly. He carries a pocket dictionary!

  11. SKL says:

    I have some old books from the days when they used to use “transitional phonics” and other fads. Scary! All kids learn differently. Those who really read best via phonics will “survive” these methods, but some of us remember what a word looked like the first time we learned it. For them, they’ll have to re-learn it at an age when they should be reading fluently. As much as I wish we had a more phonetic language, we don’t, and kids can understand that.

    Does anyone remember “long division”? Do they still teach that? What a crock that was. I had missed school on the day the teacher explained it, so I asked my older brother, who taught me short division. I “got it” and got the answers right on my homework, but the teacher gave me hell until I re-did them in “long division.” And the next day after I finally perfected “long division,” the teacher moved the on to the “short division” chapter. Talk about exasperation.

    Re Captain Underpants, I got the impression that the misspellings were on child-created signs and letters, but the main text was not misspelled. Perhaps I misunderstood.

    I like to look at the actual letters/diaries of kids from earlier times. They are always so advanced compared to our kids’ average writing. I often wonder why that is. Even Helen Keller, within a year or so of commencing deafblind learning, could read and write better than some of today’s seeing, hearing kids at the same age. And her teacher’s writings indicated she was still years behind the typical kids of that time.

    Speaking of spelling, here’s a funny from yesterday. I was encouraging my 4-year-old to try to read a sign in the restaurant. The first word was “chicken.” I reminded her of the sound “ch” makes and asked her to recall some “ch” words. “Tchaikovsky?” Um, yeah.

    • Laura says:

      The narrative in Captain Underpants is spelled correctly. The portion with the misspellings is in the form of comic books that the boys write, and those comic books (and maybe some of the signs, although I haven’t seen any yet) are full of misspellings.

      One or two, I can understand, if they’re big words. But one of the misspelled words was “nice”. It was spelled “nise”. These boys are supposed to be in fourth grade!! “Nice” should be a no-brainer for a fourth-grader! As should “justice”, “building”, etc. (I’ll give them a pass on “dEspair”, though… apparently a 41 year old woman couldn’t get it!!)

      I STILL use long division. I never learned “short division”.

    • Laura says:

      Tchaikovsky!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Your kids are hilarious!!

  12. Laura says:

    Does anyone remember doing “word shape puzzles” when they were in school? I remember it being one of my favorite assignments. We’d get a worksheet with a bunch of words at the top… our vocab words or a bunch of others, related to whatever subject we were studying. Then the second half of the page were a bunch of boxes. They were box-groups… little squares that coincided in height with each of the words above. For example, the word “horse” would be: 1 tall/rectangle box, connected to four short/square boxes. “dog” would be 1 tall/rectangle box, connected to a short/square box, connected to a below-the-line/rectangle box.

    It was a great visual, and not only helped us learn to spell, but to recognize word shapes. I should go see if I can find some worksheets like that for Josh. He might like that game.

    • SKL says:

      I recall reading about those “word shape puzzles” as an adult, but I don’t recall using them in KG. As an adult, I read that those were used to get kids used to recalling the word shapes so their sight reading would be more fluent. Eventually it was frowned upon because sight reading doesn’t work well for many kids, unless it is combined with a solid dose of phonics. (And also, of course, people have learned to read just fine without those boxes for millenia.) I could see where it might help to get some kids focused on visually remembering the words. But even then, this would be problematic after a handful of words are learned. Pretty soon you know too many that are the same shape, and it’s really important to look at the letters themselves. was/saw, yes/you, ball/doll, etc. – it can get confusing pretty fast if you are conditioned to only look at word shapes.

      • Laura says:

        We did have it combined with MASSIVE doses of phonics. To this day, I remember “schwa e“, and the little upside-down ‘e’. I don’t think they teach that in-depth phonics anymore. What I see them teaching as “phonics” is a really watered-down version. I don’t know if it’s good or bad.

        I just know that I really insist on proper spelling with Josh. I don’t ever want him to be a bad speller. It’s such a hindrance to other things. It’s like being a banker who isn’t able to add.

    • Joy says:

      I don’t remember but I’m that much older than you guys.

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