Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Word Family Village

We've been having a blast lately making up words.

This is Sunburst's own Word Family Village. It's not finished yet, but she has been working on it steadily, and with great gusto, for the last three weeks. And not only is it fun, it's accomplishing exactly what I had hoped that it would: Sunburst is learning to spell.

As any unschooler will tell you, the best way to learn to spell is by reading. That argument makes perfect sense to me. But for some reason, despite the fact that Sunburst readily and greedily reads over 200 pages a day now, she still can't spell. Maybe this is something that comes with time? Or maybe, I think, Sunburst has always been a FAST sort of person. Despite her reading ability and comprehension, she doesn't slow down to think about how words are constructed. So when it comes time for her to write words, they fumble upon the page in strange configurations.

So I thought we'd slow things down a bit and work on basic word construction. Word Families. You know what I'm talking about - -it, -in, -an, -on, -up, -un, -en, -et.... that sort of thing.

I started out by drawing a house on the chalkboard and telling a simple story, which went something like:
Once upon a time there was a family called the In Family. They lived in a very small house with a red door that that had their name written right upon it: In. That way the mail carrier never got confused and delivered them someone else's mail.

Well, one day, even though their house was small, they decided to have a big party. Their relatives started arriving in an orange bus. b, d, t, g, w... All of them came, and they were having a great time. They cooked up a mess of yummy food, and laughed, and hugged, and talked all day long . But as the night wore on, they got louder and louder and louder. No one at the In house could sleep with all this noise, so they decided to stay up all night long. They cooked more food, laughed at each other's jokes, and cranked up the music and had a dance party. It was great, except for one thing. The noise coming from the In house was so loud that it woke up the neighbors.

One by one the neighbors came over and knocked on the door asking them to quiet down. Finally, the sheriff came, and that got their attention. "Shhhhhhhhh!" Said the sheriff, "Your neighbors are trying to sleep!"

So one by one, the Ins settled down to a whisper, and as the sun started peeking over the horizon, the last In had fallen fast asleep.

Sunburst liked the story, and so then I showed her that all the folks that had come over to the In house actually made words. We sounded them out together, and then she drew the house in her book with all the -in words. Then I asked her if she could use the -in words to make a poem. She happily dictated, I wrote it on the board, and then she copied it into her book. (Rin is place from the Rowan of Rin book series she's crazy about.)

Then Sunburst asked for another story. But first I handed her a pad of construction paper, scissors, and a glue stick and asked her to make the In house. While she was doing this, I took a few wooden shapes (spoons, popsicle sticks, and teardrops) and began to make consonant people. Sunburst helped dress them. The small ones are singular consonants. The larger ones are consonant blends. She took her In house and glued it onto a presentation board and started drawing roads and grass, and before we knew it, it started to look like a village. She even drew a town square with a fountain! We attached the people with a loop of masking tape on the back, and one by one we started moving families in. The Ut house looks like a hut. The Up house is on stilts. The Ub house, well, it's actually an elitist pizza parlor. You have to make an -ub word to eat there... otherwise, they deliver.

Sunburst even got Moonshine involved by having her color in all the roads.

All this was well and fun, but the question was still there. Is Sunburst learning to spell?

To answer that query, we decided to host a spelling bee. It was actually Sunburst's idea to have an oral test. Three of our favorite characters came: Martha, Charlotte, and Rosemary. Sunburst represented for each of them, of course. They all did an outstanding job spelling words from a few different families. And rumor has it, they can't wait to do it again.


  1. What fun! I have to send you the story I found while cleaning ElmTree's room tonight! Then I'm going to send HER to YOU for a spelling lesson!

    Happy spelling!!

  2. Sara,

    Thanks for planning my next language arts block for me, lol! This is almost exactly what I have in mind. It resembles what Enki does for Word Families, except they use velcro instead of masking tape.

    So got any great ideas for multiplication tables? Oh, just kidding.

    I love how you combine Waldorf and unschooling. It seems that you and the kids have a wonderful way of bringing lesson time and spontaneity together. Thanks for sharing,


  3. My god you are amazing! This is a great idea. I can't wait to try it out over here....once, of course, we get to spelling!

    Consider me awed.

  4. Loved this post. I m going to use this idea. How creative of you!

  5. Aw, thanks guys.

    I actually got this idea from a picture I saw on some blog somewhere. It was just a board with a bunch of paper houses all pushed up together. No roads or people or anything, not even a blurb or two about how they were going to use it. But I thought, how cool if it was a real town where there were little people that could travel around and interact and make the words.

    Anyway, I'd love to hear/see how this idea morphs and grows within your own homeschool. I'll be doing it again with my younger two someday, and maybe you all have some improvements for me. :-)

  6. Anonymous11:33 AM

    Some children happily learn to read by memory and simply leave the world of phonemes behind them, because they don't need them in order to enjoy reading. Then they have so much trouble writing. This is a wonderful idea, and I love the story!


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