Comments 10

Bee-ing a Better Speller

by Sharin Post

I have always insisted there are two kinds of people in this world. Spellers, and people like me. My sister is nothing like me.

Which goes to show you that not all homeschoolers are Spelling Bee champs.

My husband, a public school graduate, is also nothing like me. Which ends the nature/nurture discussion for me right there. Two of my children take after him. My oldest is a lot like me.

Twain agrees with me. And he is nothing like me.

The ability to spell is a natural gift. The person not born with it can never become perfect in it. I was always able to spell correctly. My wife, and her sister, Mrs. Crane, were always bad spellers. Once when Clara was a little chap, her mother was a way from home for a few days, and Clara wrote her a small letter every day. When her mother returned, she praised Clara’s letters. Then she said, “But in one of them, Clara, you spelled a word wrong.”

Clara said, with quite unconscious brutality, “Why mamma, how did you know?”

– Mark Twain

I make my children participate in the spelling bee because it develops character. Also, here in Texas, while there are few government regulations concerning home education, “spelling” is decreed as a required course of study. SO, if my children participated in a spelling bee, then it just stands to reason they must have studied spelling. Right? Of course, right!

This Bee is a trial and tribulation for my oldest. I don’t care how well he does; I just want him to learn something. Seriously, that’s all. Now, we haven’t participated in a couple of years because of my health. But this year, he was at it again by parental mandate. And he accomplished his objective:

On his written test, he only missed one word. That word was not even on his “study list.” So that means he got all his “study list” words right. That makes me very proud of him.

In the oral bee, he went five 3-word rounds. Against this boy, who was bound and determined to go all the way (he took second in the finals).  My son spelled many of his “dreaded” words correctly. A personal triumph. R.A.S.P.B.E.R.R.Y.

As I have said before, I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters, and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling book has been a doubful benevolence to us.

– Mark Twain

Never a truer word was written. Shakspere would totally agree.

My middle boy was too young to compete in the “real” Bee. He did it all, anyway, with his young contemporaries, though he had no hope of “going on.” He did well on the written, though not perfect. And he went three rounds of 5-words each to miss on the hotly-contested “crowd.” Two children missed that word due to the pronunciation of the caller. I say it was a hotly-contested decision, because a Cute Little Girl misunderstood a word the round before and the word was thrown out. The judge offered to give my little guy a sentence, though, since he was the second child to receive the misspelled word, and he declined, and misspelled it anyway. So when the parents were protesting that the word should be thrown out, I stood up and said he knew the rules and said he understood the word. (Mean Mommy.)

But he did. Know the rules. We “play Bee” a lot at home, so he knew what was coming. And he didn’t have money riding on the event. Well, that’s not entirely true. The evening before, Daddy declared a $10 prize to anyone who won their division. But in my defense, if you were there, you would want to end the agony of the 6 hour Spelling Bee ASAP, too.

Daddy declared it a “mistrial,” and awarded the little guy his $10, much to everyone’s surprise and delight. And he harbors no ill will toward his Mean Mommy. Much to her relief. She predicts he wins next year. Watch out, cute little girl.

Ironically, Cute Little Girl is the little sister of Princess’s Spelling Nemesis. That family speaks 3 languages. Cute Little Girl informed me, before the Bee, that “My daddy went to college and learned all the languages of the world.” The mom laughed so hard when I told her that. She stayed late to cheer for Adana. They are good people, as my grandma would say.

Some people stomp their feet when they spell. Some people shuffle. Since the spellers at our Bee were seated at a table, some of them tapped their fingers or swung their shoes.

My Princess giggled.

She giggled when she repeated the word.

She giggled while she spelled it.

She giggled while she said it again.

She giggled when the judged declared it correct.

She giggled all through the Bee. Six hours of non-stop giggling.

She even giggled when they gave her awards.

She giggled when her nemesis, “the orientalish girl who beat me and the boy with glasses in first grade,” and she were taken aside for a written Bee re-match because they had both received perfect scores.

She giggled when they both received First Place Fourth Grade Written Bee when the written Bee judge gave up, realizing it would take all day to eliminate one of them.

She giggled when she and Nemesis exchanged phone numbers and promised to be friends.

She giggled when she won the Fourth Grade Oral Bee and received her ribbon.

She giggled when she took third place in the Middle School Spelling Bee Finals .

She giggled all the way home in the van.

Everyone told her she will go to county Bee someday to represent our homeschool group.

She just giggled.

Are you a speller? Or are you like me?


  1. *giggle* I’m not a perfect speller by any means, but it always came fairly easy for me. Only a few words ever gave me trouble, and I usually knew I’d spelled them wrong just by looking at them (presuming I had written them out). I never did a spelling bee. It sounds like fun for spellers, though everyone else probably just goes into survival mode and tries to outlast the barrage of words and letters. Congratulations to each of your children for their accomplishments!


  2. Sarah says

    I loved spelling bees as a child, so I guess that makes me one of “them” and not like you. Unfortunately. Love your version of the “Bee day events.” And, bravo to all the children for their hard work. And, bravo to YOU for enduring the six hours of spelling…and *giggling*. 🙂 Bravo to little man, for winning his Daddy’s $10! (WHAT an ADORABLE picture!!!)


  3. Definitely a speller. I can’t say that ‘language’ has been one of my favorite topics for most of my life (the only language I know is English and we all know that hasn’t been spoken in America in years according to Professor Higgins of My Fair Lady.

    I am probably the most “not like you” member of my family, but I also happen to be the writer, so it all works out.

    As if that’s not bad enough, my mother-in-law taught school for years (her first teaching job was in a one-room school house), and she was masterful at English AND grammar. Yikes! She was a great proofreader. I miss her dearly sometimes.

    Carrie L. Lewis


  4. I love spelling, and even experience minor spasmodic reactions to bad spelling and grammar. 😀 The worst was last Saturday, when a man had written “allot” instead of “a lot” on his teaching notes.


  5. I heartily agree with Mark Twain, Shakespeare and you. I am a speller, but my hubby is not. My mother is; my dad is not. We have two children I homeschooled through high school. From birth, it seemed, one spelled well; the other did not. 🙂 We completed spelling curricula some years, we skipped them other years…and our end of the year testing showed absolutely no difference! I will say that the only method that improved my poor speller’s performance was working on spelling in the context of high school writing. That method was the ONLY, out of many, that we tried.

    Kudos to your adorable children for putting in the effort! (And I applaud your ‘mean mommy’ approach, reinforcing that important trait of taking responsibility, not advantage.)


  6. I am a speller, but my opinion has changed over the years over how much of a stickler to be. ; ) *Gasp* Did I forget I’m a first-born people-pleasing rule-follower? When I was in ninth grade I spent hours upon hours upon hours getting reading for the spelling bee at our Michigan Assoc of Christian Schools convention. I was aslo competing in band, flute solo, choir, etc. I got so caught up in watching duet dramatic interpretation, that I FORGOT TO GO COMPETE! All those hours wasted. I was crushed, but more embarrassed that I forgot!

    My nemesis word in 8th grade was chandelier. Not sure if I just spelled it correctly. ; )

    In defense of your oldest, how can one smile when (s)he is concentrating so hard?


  7. Anyone who can find a copy of the out-of-print Dictionary of Misinformation by Tom Burnam ought to look up the entry on “spelling.” It’s a shame that it’s too long to copy here, because it (along with the rest of the book) makes for delightfully entertaining reading. Basically, it points out that, first, it was relatively recently that people paid much attention to spelling at all (the great Shakespeare really DID spell his own name however he felt like it at the moment); second, many literary geniuses have been terrible spellers; and third, pronounciation is going to keep evolving away from “phonetic” spelling despite all our best efforts.


  8. I really like your line about this building character in your son. I’ve never really thought about approaching certain things like this in this way with my own children – but I’m sure it will come to mind the next time they ask me, “Why?”.


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