The timer goes off, indicating the end of a Spelling You See copywork session. “Please, Mom,” your child begs, “I want to do more!” You hesitate. Your child really seems interested in the lesson, and you certainly don’t want to discourage learning. Should you let him continue? Here are three principles to consider when deciding whether to accommodate your child’s request to keep going in Spelling You See.
Principles of Spelling You See
If you think about it, spelling is not an easy skill to acquire. The child’s developing brain must learn to associate spoken sounds heard by the ear with symbols seen visually and then transmit this information to the hand for transcription as marks written on a page. This is particularly difficult in English, where so many of the words are exceptions to the rule. Because the skill of spelling is so complex, it is essential that the brain be fully engaged in order to make all the necessary connections. Research has shown that the human brain can actively pay attention for no more than ten minutes at a time and that material presented beyond this point is less likely to be remembered.1 For this reason, stopping your child after ten minutes actually increases the probability that his brain will retain what has been learned during that day’s spelling session.
Neuroscientists have discovered1 that learning takes place as three parts of the brain interact: the amygdala, which responds to emotion; the hippocampus, which moves experiences to long-term memory; and the cerebral cortex, where information is stored. Spelling You See passages are deliberately written to be easy-to-read, fun, and interesting, which causes the student to feel confident and engaged. The pleasant atmosphere and novelty of the material relaxes the amygdala and allows the hippocampus to begin transmitting the new information to the cerebral cortex. If your child is asking for “more spelling,” this is an indication that the material is doing its job. Stopping the lesson while the student is still enjoying the experience will maintain a high level of brain activity and actually promote learning in the long run. In addition, the student is more likely to engage in the activity at the next session because of the positive association that has been created in his mind.
My support for this last principle does not come from scientific research but from my own experience as a “retired” homeschooling parent. We must remember that we are training our children not just for learning but for life. Just because I am enjoying one scoop of ice cream does not mean I should eat the entire carton; similarly, enjoying one episode of a television show does not mean I should stay up late to finish the entire season. While stopping after ten minutes of a spelling lesson may seem like a small thing, it is important that our children learn how to disengage from an enjoyable activity for the purpose of developing a disciplined lifestyle. Our children need to learn how to tell themselves “no” in order to sacrifice a temporary pleasure for a higher long-term goal.
So should you stop your child after ten minutes of Spelling You See? Of course, this is up to you, but I would encourage you to consider the three principles I’ve presented as you make your decision. Something as simple as a spelling lesson can have far-reaching effects.
1Medina, John. Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press, 2014