To Correct or Not to Correct? How to Instill Strong Language Skills in Children

By Laura Wallis for The Stir by CafeMom

I come from a long line of English teachers on my mother’s side. I remember being corrected on my grammar pretty much as soon as I could speak—for my grandmother, my full grasp of the distinction between “bring” and “take” was as vital as covering my mouth when I yawned. Speaking and writing correctly was just good manners.

These days, though, the school of thought on correcting kids has relaxed somewhat. Even if you have the heart to correct your kids (see our previous post, “Too Cute To Correct”)—it isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Here are a couple of reasons why and some suggestions on what you might do instead.

Correcting can actually disrupt learning

In the early years of writing, your child is absorbing a lot of information. Learning to tell a story, explaining who the major characters are, adding details and action, and expressing emotions are complicated tasks. I learned this lesson from my children’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers, who would remind us parents to let small things like spelling mistakes go when reviewing our kids’ early writing efforts.

Many teachers think that the creative or “temporary” spellings of words that our kids come up with are perfectly fine placeholders and help to keep kids on task. Focusing on the correct spelling of each word—and even on proper punctuation—can slow down all the heavy-duty thinking that goes into writing.

What to do instead of correct? Take cues from the teacher. What is the focus of the writing assignment? If it’s persuasive writing, look for an instance where your child made a good argument, and praise that. Same if she did a great job of adding descriptive detail in recounting a small moment. If a word from your child’s weekly sight-word spelling list appears, it’s okay to make sure that one is spelled correctly and review it if not. Otherwise, it might be better to let it go.

Correcting can discourage

Although some mistakes can be grating and hard to ignore, interrupting your child’s speech on the regular to say “Jimmy and I, dear, not Jimmy and ME” is a pretty good way to torpedo your kid’s confidence.

A friendlier, and maybe even more effective approach in the long run, is to take a page from the nursery school teachers’ playbook and model correct speech yourself. If your little one says “Daddy drived me to school” you can say “He drove you to school? Did you miss the bus?”

It’s just a nicer way to go, and if she hears it the right way often enough, eventually it’s sure to stick.


Laura Wallis is a freelance writer and editor specializing in all things family, home, food, and health. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and dog—none of whom take grammar as seriously as they should. She writes for The Stir by CafeMom.

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