My third grader spells haphazardly, using correct spelling in one sentence and incorrect spelling of the same word in the next sentence. How can I make her care?

Some kids, like adults, are detail people, proud when things are “just so.”

Other kids, like your daughter, are not concerned with details.  Does she get distracted easily?  This could be part of the problem.  Is she trying to establish a different role in the family from an older, more obedient child?  Is her personality laid-back and easy-going?  Causes for her lack of rigor could be many.

Child writing with right hand.

She might have gotten away with this carelessness in first and second grade, but now that she is in third grade, she will be taking the Common Core tests.  For the first time, lack of attention to detail might bring down her grades.  Does she know this?

The best motivation is internal, but for some children, an external goal focuses them.  What might motivate her to be more consistent with her spelling?  Money?  A trip to the book store?  A lunch out with Mom and Dad?

Considering your daughter’s age, a “contest” for one week might be a way to begin.  If she brings home worksheets every night and there are no spelling errors, she might earn a small but meaningful reward.  If she can keep it up for another week, then she might earn a second reward.  If she can get a certain grade on her end-of-year test, then she might earn another reward.

Or you might give her a 15-minute writing assignment at home Monday through Friday.  On Saturday she could receive her writings back and edit them, looking for spelling errors.  She could circle any word she thinks might be misspelled and look them up in a children’s dictionary or online.   This would be her chance to make changes before you evaluate her spelling.

Other ways she might find the correct spelling of questionable words are writing the word several ways and figuring out which one “looks right.” Or she might use a spell checker on the computer.  I have a spelling dictionary which I let children use to look up frequently misspelled words.

If she is writing at home, you might give her a short list of words she is likely to want to use.  If she is writing about fossils, for example, you could write “fossil,” “sedimentary,” “erosion,” and “layers.”  This encourages her to use such words and to follow standard spelling.  If she is using more advanced vocabulary, words like “canyon,” “marine” and “stratification,” and she spells those words phonetically, praise her for trying and tell her the proper spelling.

If you notice your daughter is repeatedly misspelling a particular word, you might develop a silly story which helps the child remember the correct spelling.  “An elephANT is beigger than an ant.  Or if she is misspelling a “family” of words, you might come up with a way for her to remember the spelling.

The more game-like you can make learning, the more likely your child is to participate.  And games have winners.  Offer her the prize she has earned, and let her know how proud you are.  Your daughter is still at the age where pleasing her parents is so important.  Make the most of it.

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