Taking Our Spellings For A Walk

For the last 18 months I’ve prided myself on being a Dad first and teacher second. Whether it be my work:life balance or allowing my son to explore learning at his own pace, I’m the most chilled-out version of me since my own school days twenty years ago. I love that – unlike so many teachers – I can enter my boy’s classroom without assessing provision or evaluating cursive style or seating arrangements. When it comes to homework, I’m surprisingly relaxed; we’ll read every night but I haven’t – up to this point – used my superhero teacher-powers to any great purpose. Up to this point, its been about enjoying school and being able to share in school-life without being one of those pushy parents who also happen to teach.

Over the past few weeks – when reading together – I started to notice a frustration in my son. As an early reader, he’d hit the land of ‘tricky words’ as they’re now known in the UK. In the States, I believe they’re known as ‘sight words’? Whatever – we’re talking about those words that (for a young child) just don’t work; those words that don’t fit with their early phonics learning. I reached for my cape.

Over on my Facebook page, I recently shared the stunning artwork of Nikolai Tolstyh (see image below). Using this as inspiration, I came up with the idea of a ‘Word Walk’ – a non-threatening, relaxed way to spend time with my son, engineered towards a learning outcome. Essentially, we’d go for a walk, learn his tricky words and he wouldn’t even see it coming. Happy days.

Photogrpahy by

The stunning work of Nikolai Tolstyh…


We’d been given six of these words to learn at parents’ evening. I wasn’t surprised to see ‘The’ rocking up at the top of the list; someone should make a film of kids (and adults) trying to decode it – crazy facials! Go on, have a go: t-h-e! See. Crazy facials. I printed the word-set onto card, cut them out as stencils and waited for boy-wonder to finish school. There was no planning required; no set route. We walked and chatted about fog, Guy Fawkes and the most comfortable type of underpants while occasionally whipping out a tricky word to photograph in a ‘cool’ spot. My superhero teacher-powers naturally led to the odd, well-timed question, but it wasn’t anything I needed to have trained for. After a while, we both forgot we were reading, spelling and learning the words each time we stopped to make sure we’d photographed them all. This gave me confidence that the task would meet the needs of all learners – even those most reluctant homework-haters.

Below are some of our shots.  Half an hour was all it took to progress towards reading and spelling all the words we’d been asked. Without wanting to get all sentimental and deep, we’d taken inspiration from art to ignite excitement for learning even after a full day at school. My son could spell his tricky words.  Mr Nikolai Tolstyh – thank you :)


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