Three years ago, I started homeschooling a 4.5yo Grasshopper, who was already reading. I had no idea that a child who was an advanced reader would not be advanced in everything else. I know. Duh! But I thought that I could look at someone's recommendations for a 1st grade spelling program and apply that to any child who was spelling at that level, regardless of age. Alas, I was wrong. I quickly learned that a workbook approach was not a good idea for a 4yo, and most especially for this particular child. That first year, we ended up adapting Spelling Workout A by doing most of it orally and doing tests using SpellingCity. I knew that I needed something that required more interaction on my part.
I ended up finding Spell to Write and Read (SWR). We made a very rough start of it, but I want to tell the world that SWR meets head-on the challenge of teaching thorough, explicit phonics to students who are not learning at grade level (meaning they are either ahead or behind). You see, this is the big problem with workbooks. They are so very tempting, giving us the illusion that everything a student needs is right there in that book. But this is a huge problem for a student who is not at grade level. I mean, what 3rd grader wants to be treated like a 1st grader, even if it is for the purpose of spelling? And who in their right mind would hand a book designed for a 6yo to a 4yo? (That would be me!)
SWR eliminates the hassle of determining what level to buy or how to adapt a program up or down to suit the writing abilities of an individual student. All programs suited to adapting to a differently-abled learner have one thing in common--they are flexible. SWR is flexible because it contains all levels in one. All word lists are in one book: The Wise Guide. You give your child a diagnostic test to determine placement in this one book. Then you adapt all activities to your child's needs. Very young children may only work on 1-2 words per day and may not participate in spelling tests at all. Older children will work on up to 40 words per week. Each spelling list has several suggested activities to go with that list, some for emerging readers and others for more advanced readers. Yes, it is a lot more work than handing your child a workbook. But if your child is not reading, spelling and writing at his age level, SWR makes adaptation as easy as it gets. Your child will never feel like the program was meant for an older or a younger child.
When I started SWR, I was still learning about giftedness and how to teach young gifted children, so it has been a long road trying to figure it all out. SWR actually has a reputation for helping struggling readers, and although I am sure that it is wonderful for that, it is unfortunate, because I believe that every child should learn such thorough phonics. Yes, it is certain that some of them will end up being natural readers and spellers and not need such an intensive program. But I don't think anyone should wait until their child is behind to give him all the tools he will need to read.
Yes, the SWR manual could make it easier to get started. But if you can get past the first 2-3 months, everything will begin to be quite open-and-go. My struggle to get started with SWR was more than worth the effort. I now have a program that is based on a very sound philosophy and will last us for as long as we need and for as many children as I teach. I am now starting my 4yo Cricket on SWR, and I can already see the wisdom in this program compared to that workbook approach that three years ago I thought was the best way to go.