In kindergarten Skylar and her classmates at Manzanita were told to use "kids' spelling" all the time. When I was volunteering in her class I'd say, "Use your sounders!," because that made-up word did the best job of reminding them what do do. Now that they're in first grade, though, they have spelling tests each week. The transition from an approach where the emphasis is on expression alone to one where being correct takes precedence has been confusing at times. As my friend whose daughter is two years ahead of Skylar once noted, even six and seven-year-olds can sense ideological conflict in the classroom. Luckily for Skylar, though, the injunction to start doing things the grown-up way has been tempered by plenty of encouragement to use "kids' spelling" in other assignments. When she writes us her weekly note or does her homework, she is permitted to translate sound to paper phonetically in order to bridge the many gaps in her orthographic expertise.
Although I find her hybrid spelling status vexing at times -- I had to learn the correct spelling for words from the get-go -- I have to admit that it makes her writing a lot richer in content than it otherwise would be. Not to mention that her attempts to sound out words regularly results in transcriptions that reveal something about pronunciation that would otherwise go unnoticed. This week's homework is a great example:
I struggled to figure some of the words out, but once I did, I was delighted. "Veginya" for "Virginia"; "cheravled" for "travelled"; "Callaforsyu" for "California" -- these transcriptions capture the nasal quality of American English pronunciation beautifully. Linguists can learn a lot from children. Toddlers especially. But the lingering use of "kids' spelling" at Skylar's age gives that utility a longer shelf life. I just hope that the transition from this hybrid spelling situation to all-grown-up all the time works out as well as the last one.