Phonics the cheapskate way

A friend asked the other day what phonics program we use.  My answer: none.  We tried a few, but always end up doing phonics in s more natural way.

It works something like this:

A child writes a story, a letter or a blog post.  Anything that is leaving the house takes at least 2 steps: a rough draft and a final version.  Often there is another step or two, but that’s the minimum.  The child brings me her first version, and we go over it.  I point out a word that is misspelled and give her the correct spelling.  If this is a new sort of word for her (or if she’s very new to this, and everything is new for her) then we talk about other words that are spelled that way:

Would is spelled with ould, like could and should.

Talk is spelled with the same pattern as walk.”

“Heard is spelled with ear in the middle.  It doesn’t seem like it needs the a, but learn, earth and early are also spelled that way.  Hey, can anybody think of other examples for her?”

A younger child might ask for help spelling even on her first draft.  I rarely give just the spelling that she is asking for.  Instead, I answer with a rule:

If she asks how to spell bird, I might tell her that the “ir” sound is most often spelled with e-r, but in this case it’s i-r like in first or dirt.

If she wants to know how to spell time, I help her sound out the first 3 letters, then ask if she remembers how to make the i long (put an e on the end).

For an older child who wants help spelling a difficult word, I might mention a Greek or Latin root and related words to help understand the spelling pattern:

“The first part of telescope is spelled t-e-l-e.  It’s from the Latin word that means far, like in television or telegraph: far-seeing, and far-writing.”

“The ‘k’ sound in architect is spelled with a ch because it has a Greek origin.  That sound is from the Greek letter chi, like in Christ.  Words with ph have Greek origins too, from the Greek letter phi.”

These are just a few small examples.  This happens a dozen times a day in our house, a dozen different ways.  It’s part of what many homeschoolers call “a lifestyle of learning.”  This takes some education on my part, too, but that’s good, right?  Homeschooling moms are always learning right along with their children, and this is just one example of how that happens.


  1. This came at the right time for me! Today we were doing a writing assignment and I found myself thinking we needed to go back to a basic phonics program. However, I actually do the same thing that you do in talking them through the spelling. I am curious how long it takes for it to click though. I am not seeing the fruit yet! Thanks for sharing.

  2. can you please explain in a bit more detail how and what your homeschooling day includes? do your kids have a set curriculum? do they have to devote so much time to learning per day. do they take tests? how do you keep each one on grade level or beyond? how do you know they are up to par with regular schooled children?

  3. I taught that in a very similar way. And I have great readers but on the other had I was taught the memorization method and am an excellent reader myself. I never liked to make them sit down and plug away at it. We addressed the rules as they came up.

  4. So, I’m curious to know, based on this post, would you call yourselves “unschoolers”? Or do you actually use and follow a curriculum? We use a curriculum, but I don’t make them do absolutely everything in the curriculum. It’s more of a guideline. (Although, I still feel a little guilty sometimes when I don’t make them do everything.) I certainly believe every day life is filled with learning opportunites, you just have to capture them!

  5. Tag, you’re it! Again!

  6. Our teaching styles are very similar. Real life is the best way to learn whenever possible, and it’s much more fun for everyone! (Too bad that approach doesn’t get us as far with math!)

  7. Ok. As a child who learned to read via the look-see method of memorizing 98294654 million words in the public school back in the 80s, where does one find a nice condensed list of spelling rules like that?

    I’ve googled several times and haven’t found anything suitable.

    We’re using Jesse Wise’s Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching reading with #3 & 4. I like it so far. I’m making #2 go back through it, but we haven’t gotten to the end yet. She’s got some rules that I’m trying to incorporate as we go.

    Seriously? I would love to have a spelling program like the one Professor What’s His Name used with Akeela in Akeela & the Bee (movie.) Haven’t found that either.

  8. Not the cheapskate way but the FRUGAL way. 🙂 This sounds like a post for Frugal Hacks. You could call it Frugal Fonics…or Phrugal Phonics. But maybe that’s just to weird to mess up the spelling on purpose when writing about phonics!


  1. […] of telling her how to spell each word, I encourage her to sound out the easy ones.  We call this phonics the cheapskate way.  We enjoy a cantaloupe snack, although we really should be preparing […]

Don't just think it: say it!

%d bloggers like this: