The Spelling Bee Buzz

abc lettersI’ve been thinking about spelling bees a lot lately, mainly because the Bozeman Schools Foundation, where I now work part time, will be hosting its annual Adult Team Spelling Bee next month. The Bee is always a great time with 3-person teams in costumes doing their best to out-spell their opponents.

Memories from my own childhood bring to mind the entire class lining the classroom walls, waiting in turn for a chance to spell a word correctly. This activity was never called a spelling bee but was basically an exercise in which the teacher got all kids in the class involved in a group learning experience.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “spelling bee” dates back to 1875, although there’s evidence that suggests the contests were held even before that. Throughout their long history, students in grades 1-8 have been the primary participants in spelling bees- although it’s not unheard of for older students, adults and senior citizens to have bees of their own.

The Spelling Bee at Hawthorne School is held each spring. As a series of words is clearly pronounced and diligently spelled back, a careful winnowing of eager participants makes the numbers dwindle.

At some point in the bee, the competition comes down to a couple of students. The poise and aplomb with which these students face the next word is inspiring. They meet the word head-on and in the final round come out in the positions of first place and runner-up.

If you take a close look you’ll see that P-R-I-D-E best describes the look on the faces of these two students, one of whom will be moving on to the citywide competition.

A variation of this scene plays out in cities all across the country, with participants setting their sights on the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. where all participants are under the age of 15.

So what are the benefits for a child who participates in a spelling bee? Here’s a short list of what a bee can do for your child:

  • Boost literacy
  • Improve vocabulary skills
  • Develop study skills
  • Build self-confidence
  • Hone public communication skills

According to James Maguire, an author who has traced former Scripps National Spelling Bee participants, most kids who participate in the Scripps Bee go on to lead successful professional lives. So obviously, these benefits are something worthwhile for your child to pursue.
But not all kids are going to advance to the national finals. And honestly, not all families would want that kind of pressure for their child. So how can you help your child achieve and receive the benefits of spelling bee participation without actually going to the finals?
Here are several simple things you can do for your child to ensure he gains the literacy, study skills and self-confidence he needs to create a successful life.

  1. Search online for some of the numerous free spelling games available for kids. As your child masters more difficult words her self-confidence will soar.
  2. Play pencil and paper games like Hangman. As your child tries to figure out the correct word his vocabulary will be getting a workout. And as his vocabulary skills increase so will his literacy.
  3. Have family or neighborhood stand-up spelling bees where the words are geared towards the participant’s skill levels. If you have a teenager and an 8 year old, you will simply have three sets of words. An easier list for your 8 year old, an intermediate list for your teenager and a harder list for you or other adults who participate. Your child’s oral communication skills will flourish with each round of spelling that you undertake.

So there you have a few simple ideas for helping your child develop some basic skills that will serve him well throughout his life. And in the meantime you will also be forging some awesome bonds as you both work toward the common goal of success.


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