Spelling, Writing & Being Fearless

I’m kind of in love with phonetic spelling – especially of the preschool variety. Maybe it’s funnier because English is such a jacked up language that nothing – really, almost nothing – is spelled the way it should be. We teach our toddlers the ABC song, painstakingly help our preschoolers learn the sound that each letter makes, and then spend the next twelve years of schooling explaining all the exceptions to the rules. Or the R-O-O-L-Z.

Girl Powers is an early reader and a fearless writer. Her pencil carves big, awkward and often transposed characters into the soft fibers of sheet after sheet of construction paper. After each letter she looks up and off into space and says the word she wants to write again, finding emphasis in the next sound. Much of the time she comes close: G-R-A-N-E-E = Granny, B-U-B-U = Bubba (her name for my brother). Sometimes she stops and asks for help, but more often I don’t even know she’s writing until she rushes up with a finished word for me to see.

Yesterday she came to me with S-E-R-U on a folded piece of white printer paper. The “S” was kind of lying on its side and somehow both curves went the same way. She had run out of room and had flipped the folded paper over to make the “U” on the opposite side from the other letters. S-E-R-U. I was stumped at first, searching her face and racking my brain for a bit of context that would unravel the meaning behind her earnest attempt.

S – E – R – U = Sarah. Of course it does. She had written my name, 100% phonetically spelled (at least as far as her knowledge of short vowel sounds takes her). Why shouldn’t it be Seru? Or Sairuh? Or Sarea? All those variations make at least as much sense as Sarah (or Sara).

That’s the thing about writing, isn’t it? You think you know which sound should come next, which word, which idea, which paragraph, and then you put it down as it was in your head and often it looks funny, sounds funny, not at all the way you meant. Other times – though not often and usually by accident – it comes out perfect on the first try. One thought at at time, one letter, one word. Pausing in between, erasing, deleting, starting over. Saying it out loud, searching for the next piece of the puzzle.

I know how she feels.

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