Think of words like There and their--and is there really any phonetic reason why they shouldn't be spelled the say way? Think of the 'r-controlled vowels,' er, ir, and sometimes 'or' (word, work)--phonics gets you far with those, but a little memorization is necessary after that.
My oldest was a natural speller. My fifth was pretty nearly perfect. The others had varying levels of spelling incompetence.=) I nearly despaired of the second girl ever learning to spell. She misspelled words she copied. I began using Miss Mason's method with her when she was about twelve. I do not know if it was the method or the age, but she did begin spelling better, and I now am not embarrassed for us both over her spelling. She is now an adult who spells well but thinks she doesn't.
In general, what Charlotte Mason suggested for spelling is that the spelling word be written properly where the child can study it and work to put it in his mind's eye (that mind's eye is an important component of many things in a CM education. He doesn't copy it ten times, he simply looks at it with all the focused attention he can muster up. When he thinks he has memorized the way the word looks, ask him to close his eyes and picture it. Then have him spell aloud and/or write it correctly. We used a lap sized whiteboard to do this so I could quickly erase any errors. You can use anything- a pan of salt and write in it with a finger, a blackboard, paper and pencil and you put a strip of stickit paper over errors, or use letter tiles from a scrabble game or something similar.
Here's what the Mason's approach to spelling looks like spread out over the years- but do keep in mind that the most important part of any element of a CM education is always principles, and after that you can apply various practices.
Start with copywork (more about that here)- most importantly, have your student look at whole words and copy an entire word or phrase at a time, rather than copy letter by letter.
Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose (For this reason, a child's own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM).
When they do misspell a word, quickly cover it, write down the word correctly elsewhere and have them look at it properly spelled and visualize it, and then they should correct it in the written copy.
When they start to write narrations, you can skim over the narration, quickly correct incorrectly spelled words (without much comment) and then have your student read the narration aloud. You can privately keep a word bank of the misspelled words to use for separate work on spelling, which should not take up more than five or ten minutes of a day. If you keep track of their misspelled words you may notice a pattern of the sorts of works that give your student trouble and then you can focus on that issue.
- Teach a handful of basic spelling rules on an as needed basis, for instance, if you notice a child consistently misspells words with the ie pattern. Usually, kids will get the correct patterns through their own reading and their copywork, but it doesn't hurt to add a bit of information once in a while. When they are copying a sentence with a word like field or weight in it is a good time to review that rule, for instance. Most of us have heard at least part of the "I before e, except after C," but it's more useful when you have the second half of the verse: " or when it sounds like a as in neighbour or weigh. Here is a list of words that show how useful this rule is.
- Here are some rules on pluralizing.
- The letter C makes a soft, s sound when it is followed by i, e, or y (similarly, G sounds like j when followed by e or y)
- How to know when to use el vs le: https://howtospell.co.uk/lewords and also here: https://spellzone.com/unit26/page1.cfm
- When adding suffixes (endings to words, such as -ing), you drop the final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel but not before a suffix beginning with a consonant (hope+ing is hoping but hope-ful becomes hopeful)
- English words do not end in U or J (or I, but given names will be exceptions because we make those up).
- You can find other rules here and here.
Year 4 is when we add dictation.
Every day for a few minutes, the student 'prepares' the passage (see page 242 of Volume 1). This preparation involves having the child carefully look through the passage and anytime he comes to a word he thinks he can't spell he is to look at it attentively, then close his eyes and picture it with his eyes shut. After a bit of this, the teacher or mother asks him what passages he is still unsure of, and at this time may point out others that she thinks might give him trouble.
Dictation is only taken up after the student has some experience with copywork (which continues), and copywork is only taken up after handwriting. Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork or dictation. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, with little mental effort or decision (in other words, by habit) letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.
This is the primary method for teaching spelling.
The above is my summary. Below is taken directly from volume 1, Home Education, by Charlotte Mason:
These things all work together, handwriting, copywork, dictation, reading well written books, doing their own reading as soon as they can, playing with letter tiles, copying names and information correctly in nature journals, history timelines, century books, and so on, singing hymns and folk songs, playing with the lyrics of poetry and folk songs, narration, and more. Together, these practices not only improve spelling, but enable a child to compose well written papers, stories, letters to Grandmothers, and more. Most children will take a bit longer to pick up the spelling than they would in public school, but they are also reading more complex works much younger than they are in public school. Don't throw up your hands when the child is ten and say it isn't working- you haven't even started dictation yet at 10! You need the full method for best success. All the pieces, parts, gears, and wheels work together.
Copywork with older students
$5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal, Feed Your Mind! This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.
$3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.