My child is inconsistent when it comes to spelling. She’ll spell a word correctly in one paragraph but wrong in the next. Or she’ll get it right one day but not the next. Is that typical?


First, it’s great that you’ve been observing your child’s work so closely and have picked up on patterns.

All kids make mistakes as they’re learning, whether it’s with spelling or any other skill. You asked whether the mistakes are “typical.” The better way to think of it is: Are they typical for your child’s grade?

Your child’s teacher is a great source of information on this. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for time to talk. The teacher can tell you how your child is doing with spelling overall. You can also find out if what you’re seeing at home is happening in class.

The more information you give, the more helpful the teacher can be. So you might want to do some more detective work before you talk. Here are two things to consider:

  • How many errors is your child making? Are most words spelled wrong or are most words spelled right?
  • What types of words does your child struggle with? Are they words that are spelled the way they sound or ones that aren’t? What about common words that appear often, like wasand, or the?

Lots of kids have trouble with spelling. The English language can be pretty tricky. There are many rules to follow, and exceptions to every rule.

When kids are first learning how to spell, they often use an approach called invented spelling. They try to figure out all the sounds in the word and write down the letter that stands for each sound.

They may make mistakes. But if they write out most of the sounds in the word, then it’s OK. For example, a child who’s trying to sound out flowers using invented spelling might write flawrs.

When they’re using this approach, kids may spell the same word wrong in different ways. It’s usually not a problem, though. Especially if they’re fairly new spellers and their skills get better over time.

But if skills don’t get better, there may be something else going on that’s causing the trouble with spelling. Certain learning and thinking differences can make it hard to spell for different reasons.

If you think your child is struggling with other skills besides spelling, share those concerns with the teacher, too. Together you can talk about ways to help.


Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH 

is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.


Kids with sensory processing issues have trouble organizing information the brain receives from the senses. When we talk about senses, we usually mean the five traditional ones: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. But there are actually two other senses. These sixth and seventh senses control body awareness (proprioception) and balance and spatial orientation (the vestibular sense).

Having sensory processing issues can affect kids’ motor skills in several ways. If kids are uncomfortable touching things, they may be reluctant to play with and manipulate objects. This can slow down the development of some motor skills.

However, it’s far more common for trouble with the sixth and seventh senses to affect gross and fine motor skills. Here’s why.

What Proprioception Does

We all have receptors in our muscles that tell us where our body parts are. For example, if you raise your hand, you know that your arm is over your head. You don’t have to think about it or look in a mirror. But kids with poor proprioception may think their arm is over their head when it’s really straight out in front of them.

What the Vestibular Sense Does

The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance, eye movement and spatial orientation. It helps keep you stable and upright. Children with vestibular issues may not know where their body is in space. This can make them feel off balance and out of control.

Trouble With Motor Skills

Kids who have trouble with proprioception or the vestibular sense could struggle with motor skills in a number of ways.

They may seem awkward and clumsy. An activity like running or even going up and down stairs may be hard for kids who have difficulty knowing how their body is oriented and whether it’s stable. They may move slowly or avoid activities that are too challenging.

They may not know their own strength. Imagine you’re at the fridge, getting out a carton of juice you think is full—but it’s actually empty. You may jerk the carton up or even drop it because you used more muscles than you needed.

Sensory-related difficulties can make it tough to gauge movements for all kinds of tasks. Kids with sensory processing issues may break the pencil point because they’re writing too hard, rip a page when they just meant to turn it or give overenthusiastic hugs.

They may not like physical activities that other kids find fun. For example, they may not feel safe on the swings because they’re not getting the sensory input that tells them they’re securely seated. As the swing moves, they may have difficulty understanding how to shift their weight to balance.

They may be in constant motion, bump into things or seem out of control. When kids don’t get enough feedback from the sensory system, they may exaggerate their movements to get the information they need from the environment. When they walk down a hallway, they may knock into the wall to feel more anchored. They may kick their legs under their desk for the same reason. They may love physical activity like doing flips off the diving board or just jumping up and down.

What You Can Do

If you suspect your child has sensory processing issues, consider having him evaluated by an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. One-on-one therapy can make a big difference.

There are lots of ways to help at home, too. A therapist may suggest activities that give your child opportunities to use his arms and legs at the same time. These might include making a home obstacle course, showing him how to do a push-up or just having him help rake leaves and carry groceries.

The point is to give your child the sensory input that he needs to feel in control of his body. When he gets this information, it will help him feel more stable and focused. Over time, most kids will figure out their own strategies to work around their weaknesses and play to their strengths.


Kate Kelly 

has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

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