Traditional homeschool spelling programs (e.g., BJU Spelling or A Reason for Spelling) generally have a similar format: on Monday is a pre-test, then three days of working on a 15-20 word spelling list, followed by a final test on Friday, repeated week after week, always with a new list. Most public and private schools follow the same format.
I homeschool two reasonably bright children, yet I consistently found that our post-test on Friday looked exactly the same as the pre-test the previous Monday. In other words, no learning was occurring through our mid-week spelling workbook activities. When there was the occasional gain of a new word it also would be gone by the end of the semester. Clearly the traditional style was not working for us.
I looked into other programs such as Natural Speller and Spelling Power. Both are good programs and did improve my children's retention of the words they were learning. But in the end I took the best of all I came across, talked with many mothers listening to their frustrations and solutions and ended up with this method that taught my children to spell. I have recommended this method to many homeschoolers, and have had several years of positive feedback on it. The kids learn their words, all kids in a family use the same system, and mom never pays a penny for a spelling program ever again!
The Best Spelling Program Ever has its humble beginnings with an empty facial tissue (Kleenex) box, any size. Remove the plastic webbing at the opening of the box. Give the box to your child-one per child- with poster paints and allow them to decorate to their hearts' content. First a light-colored layer of paint should cover the box to hide the manufacturer's design, then after drying, decorate with colored paint, markers or stickers. The cardboard is heavy enough to handle the paint with no problem.
Next it is Mom's turn to put words in the box. These words can come from age-appropriate word lists that can be found in your ever-increasing collection of spelling workbooks that didn't work or from the internet. In true unit study fashion, you can take the words from vocabulary lists from other subjects like science and history or from the classic books the kids are reading. When they write a story or essay record all the mis-spelled words and include them.
Write the words on an index card that's been cut in half-one word per card- and leave an empty space at the bottom (representing about 2/3 of the card). You should probably have fifteen to twenty words in the box at any given time. For older children write the definition of the word on the back and expand this to a vocabulary lesson, too. I also had the kids tape an envelope to the outside of the box to store the "accomplished" words.
Set aside five to ten minutes a day for spelling time. A lot of the specifics should be varied depending on the child's age, ability and even personality. The child reaches into the box and withdraws a word and hands it to you without looking at it. You pronounce the word clearly and they spell the word to you. Right away you can see a difference here-it is a verbal method, not a written workbook method. The linguistic experts could probably give you the why-for but I can tell you it just works better for improving spelling ability.
If the word is spelled correctly then either a check mark or a small sticker can go at the blank space at the bottom of the card. My younger child preferred the sticker, my elder the check mark. Set the card to the side and continue drawing cards from the box. If the word is mis-spelled then set it in a different pile and move on. At the end of the session- I found short sessions to be highly effective, maybe five to ten words maximum- go back to your piles. In the "correct" pile if there are any words that have received five stickers or check marks then they are "accomplished" and can go into the envelope on the outside of the box. These get pulled out once a month and re-tested, then officially retired. Those with less than five marks go back in the box.
Next take the "incorrect" pile: these are the words that need to be learned. Have your child spell the word out loud, reading it. Then have them spell it with their eyes closed. Next do an activity using their hands. This could be as simple as "writing" the word on the table with their finger, or having a pie pan filled with sand or beads and have them draw it in there. For children with real difficulties in learning to spell, these activities can be expanded: bounce a ball while spelling, write with sidewalk chalk and so on. The card is then returned to the box with no sticker or check mark.
We found this to be an excellent activity for when we had to go somewhere and were forced to "car school", just grab the box and go. As for record keeping, just keep a list of the words accomplished and submit this with your portfolio if one is required.
With this method my children became excellent spellers and the futility of the week in and week out spelling workbooks was resolved. I don't think the kids ever thought of it as schooling, this was playtime and always the bright spot in our schooling day.