Yes, spelling counts in real life

August 05, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

Each time I write the word Wednesday, I think of my son.

He was born early on a Wednesday morning, but that thought is not the only one that brings him to mind.

A few years ago when he was learning how to spell the days of the week, I heard him jokingly use three syllables to pronounce the midweek day - Wed-nes-day. I laughed along with him as I realized this was his way of remembering the silent letters.

Spelling can be challenging. Words don't always sound like they look. We learn rules to help us remember the basics. As the words get bigger, though, the effort to spell them correctly intensifies. The mental gymnastics required might seem like too much work. Why bother? Isn't it a waste of time to do the crossword puzzles?


Does spelling count in real life?

It should, according to Paula Hartman-Stein, a clinical psychologist who specializes in aging issues.

As founder of the Center for Healthy Aging in Kent, Ohio, Hartman-Stein is using spelling to keep her clients' thinking skills sharp.

A few years ago, Hartman-Stein entered an adult spelling bee fundraiser. Her company won, and she was hooked. In the months leading up to the following year's bee, she studied word lists and brushed up on spelling rules so her company could have a repeat performance.

Her work paid off in the form of another win, but there was an additional benefit that raised her interest as a clinician.

She noticed that learning new words was difficult. She struggled. It initially was a slow process. However, the more she worked on it, the faster her mind worked. And, the mental exercise started to help her ability to learn in other areas. She felt mentally alert and sharp.

Then the thought occurred to her that if spelling did that for her, perhaps it would do the same for her clients.

She began offering spelling classes in which she taught her own methodology for learning new information. Her approach is basically the same as those of children competing in school-sponsored or community bees.

"The point of it was not necessarily to become superb spellers and enter contests, but to sharpen mental skills," Hartman-Stein says.

It can be empowering when a person realizes that he or she still has the mental capacity to learn new things, Hartman-Stein says. The classes were especially popular with her clients who had concerns about memory function.

Parents and grandparents, school will be starting soon. Why not challenge yourself to learn the words your children are learning? You can help with homework and sharpen your mind at the same time. Plus, children should be taught that learning is a lifetime endeavor. You can teach that by being a good example.

Here are some of Hartman-Stein's suggestions for increasing your spelling abilities:

  • Look at the word. Say the word. Spell the word out loud. Look away from the word and spell it out loud.

  • Use your finger to write the word in the air.

  • Say the word and its letters in a singsong fashion or with a cadence you will remember.

  • Record the spelling of words on a cassette tape and listen to the tape as you do chores or drive.

And here's one that my 6-year-old daughter loves: Trace the letters of a word on a partner's back and have him guess what you just wrote. Take turns and be prepared for some tickling.

Remember that a little work goes a long way. Practice learning a word or two every day and you will be surprised at how much knowledge you will acquire in one year.

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Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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