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From a Spelling Midget to a Vocabulary Giant with Hexco Academic

What good is the ability to spell? Spelling skills in all of us represent our education level. Spell-checkers on computers go a long way, but don’t guard against homophones being used incorrectly or words being used inappropriately. Bound up with spelling skills are a student’s vocabulary level. As we expand spelling skills, we expand vocabulary, and this is the ultimate ingredient in communication, both written and verbal.

How do we practice spelling skills other than with just the tedious, old-fashioned method of a weekly list and test? We accelerate our learning, form spelling competitions within our homeschool groups and participate in area spelling bees, with the ultimate competition being the National Spelling Bee. (More on this below.)

Over the past 20+ years, Hexco Academic has actively supported students participating in bees by updating their raft of products used to study the annual list for the National Bee. Products include Spelling Mentor software, Valerie’s Spelling Bee Supplement, Natalie’s Spelling Bee Organizers, and Onomatomania activity books. Learning the in’s and out’s of how kids master an extensive list of words and working with hundreds of coaches and spellers across the country, Hexco Academic prides itself on offering not only superior products, but also valuable information by phone and e-mail to spellers. This extensive understanding, gained by years of working with spelling and vocabulary has enabled Hexco to become a leader in this field. We would like to offer you a few insights into how children learn spelling and suggest ways to accelerate your child’s spelling and vocabulary skills.

How do children learn to spell? This all-important ability starts shortly after birth. Most children learn more in the first 4 years of their life than in any other period, beginning with the basics, da-da, ma-ma, bye-bye, etc.

Next, they begin to gather words and string words together, ultimately, becoming interested in reading. After parents start reading to them, children recognize that words can be read, and become determined to read themselves. This can happen very early, if they are encouraged. It is not difficult to teach a child to read by 4 years old.

Once this interest develops, children begin assimilating their spelling skills, generally after they learn their letters and probably phonics or reading skills. Historically, children were given a spelling list weekly to study with various associated exercises, and were expected to take an oral test at week’s end. The exercises were geared to different types of learners, and this is not unlike the Spelling Mentor software which is available with either grade-appropriate lists or word lists for the National Spelling Bee.

Specifically, how do children learn? They fall into the three classes of learning styles.


Visual learners


· Have strong visualization ability

· Relate the best to written information, such as notes, charts, or pictures

· Prefer to make outlines of reading material or take notes, even when hand-outs are available

· Learning takes place by writing down information

· Account for about 65% of the population


Auditory learners


· Learn best listening to lectures or presentations

· Generally rely on printed notes or notes jotted down after the fact that identify key points or recording information to listen to later

· Will often read information aloud to imprint it into memory

· Generally have an appreciation for words and language and a larger-than-average vocabulary, enabling them to become skillful communicators or speakers

· Account for about 30% of the population


Tactile or kinesthetic learners


· Acquire knowledge most effectively through touch, movement, and space

· Prefer imitation or practice to commit information to memory

· Learning for this group is best done in conjunction with movement and physical involvement

· Typically are hands-on learners who concentrate best while doing something

· Only about 5% of the populace falls into this category


What is the best method to learn spelling that incorporates the primary learning methods? Hexco Academic’s Spelling Mentor2 software, of course!

Visual learners read data about a word and key it in, satisfying their need to "take notes" to commit words to memory. They often make flash cards of the difficult words. (Don’t do this for them: The learning phase is in making the cards, not so much in using them.)

Auditory learners rely on hearing the word, satisfying their need to experience through their ears. They typically repeat the sound of the word while concentrating on the spelling, often spelling words the way they sound.

Kinesthetic or tactile learners rely on activity associated with spelling. The actual typing of the word is a good mechanism for these spellers and spelling is generally more difficult for them. They will often prefer to work with their list of difficult words while doing jumping-jacks or similar activity while someone is giving words out to them orally.

How does spelling and retention translate into an educated vocabulary? Spelling is a step to making students word-aware. Encourage your student to learn the meanings of words that s/he is learning to spell. Help him/her connect the spelling of words with their meanings and proper usage. Try any of these following suggestions to make those connections: Give vocabulary tests at week’s end of words covered that week; have your child write a story using all the words from a given week’s spelling list; start a Word Workbook or home-made set of flash cards. Write down interesting words as they are encountered in conversation, reading, or listening to speakers or television, and look up their meaning. Use words that are beyond your student’s reach and ask him/her to look up any unusual word you use. You can also subscribe to Hexco’s Weird Word of the Week, and enter any interesting ones into the Workbook or on a card. If you start at an early age and progress through the various graded lists (2nd-12th) that we offer, your child will gain a cumulative vocabulary of 7,000 words, a great beginning for Verbomania, our 13,000-word compilation which includes pronunciations and definitions that a student can study in preparation for the SAT and PSAT. Verbomania was built by analyzing the word choices from various flash-card decks, how-to study guides for the SAT, SAT vocabulary books, and a myriad of other choices. Hexco Academic offers various SAT prep packages which include Verbomania for vocabulary study, writing tips for the new essay portion of the SAT, mathematic short cuts and basic skills, and SAT test-taking strategies.

If your child shows a propensity for spelling, the greatest challenge is spelling competitions, the pinnacle being the National Spelling Bee. Scripps Howard requires that each sponsoring newspaper enable homeschool students to participate. To join the excitement, contact your area’s newspaper sponsor for instructions on how the event is organized locally. Begin preparing for the bees by obtaining a copy of this year’s Paideia words -- a list of approximately 3,800 words divided into 3 difficulty levels: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced.

The Paideia changes about 20% of the list every year. Hexco Academic produces materials to study the words in Paideia. Valerie’s Spelling Bee Supplement is a study booklet with all the 3,800+ words in difficulty sequence replete with pronunciation, definition, and part of speech. Spelling Mentor Software is interactive like the homeschool grade software, but with the Paideia words and much more etymology. Hexco also offers advanced products to study beyond Paideia for off-list words. Approximately 40% of the spellers at the National Bee use one product or another from Hexco Academic.

The past five consecutive National Spelling Bee Champions used Hexco products in preparation, and over the past 16 years, 10 of the spellers have been Hexco customers; this includes homeschool students (or partially homeschooled students) Sean Conley (2001), Georgie Thampy (2000), and the first homeschool National Champion, Rebecca Sealfon (1997).

We have noted that in the early 90’s, there were typically one or two homeschool students at the National Spelling Bee in a field of 125 (1%). That number has increased to 35 homeschoolers or 13% of the field in the 2004 finals.

Hexco Academic offers a bounty of information and products on language arts, competition, learning and teaching methods, SAT preparation, and much more. Please visit or call us at 800-725-2627 (1-800-PAJAMAS) or email us at for more information on all of these topics.