Pronunciation: fĭ-nŏm’ә- nŏn’
Definition: An unusual, significant, or unaccountable fact or occurrence; a marvel.
Origin: Late Latin phaenomenon, from Greek phainomenon
Sentence: The interest in the National Spelling Bee has grown so much that it is a phenomenon!
Spelling has always been a complicated matter for anyone trying to learn the English language. While our everyday vocabulary continues to grow, English word origins include almost every language in existence — and some are no longer regularly spoken! Many identical sounds are spelled differently in different words and 84 of the 90 basic English spelling patterns have exceptions. It’s no wonder that spelling can be a competitive event!
More About Spelling Bee Competitions
Spelling competitions have been around for almost 150 years. However, the last few years have seen increased attention given to spelling contests.
In addition to the televised event, a movie, Akeelah and the Spelling Bee, about an “underdog” competing to win the national contest was released also bringing wide attention to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The Scripps Bee is the country’s largest and longest-running spelling bee. Its purpose is to “help students improve spelling, increase vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives.”
So, spelling bees actually do more than just make children memorize words, which is something homeschoolers have known for a long time. The connection between homeschooling and spelling bees has always been strong, but in 1997, Rebecca Sealfon, a homeschooler from New York, won the national title and brought the connection to national prominence.
Homeschool Students and The Spelling Bee
In the early 1990s, only a few homeschoolers entered the contest; by the 1996 competition there were fourteen, and in 2006 the number increased more than 2 – times to a total of thirty-six. While that may not seem like a lot, consider that homeschoolers account for a little over 2 percent of the student population, and this year they account for more than 13% of the number of students participating in the spelling bee!
In the year 2000, a 12-year-old homeschooled student from Missouri won the national title, and the second and third-place winners were also homeschooled!
It’s obviously possible for homeschooled students to compete in (and win!) the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but where do you start?
How to Get Started with The Spelling Bee
The year before the national contest, schools and homeschool organizations run their own bees to select the winners that move on to regional bees, which are run by the 268 sponsors (most of them are newspaper companies) of the national Bee. The regional competitions include spellers from Europe, Guam, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, American Samoa, Canada, and New Zealand, as well as the United States.
The best place to start is by contacting the local sponsor who will connect you to either a homeschool association or a local school where you can participate. Students up to the 8th grade (and not older than 15) can enter. The Scripps Howard Spelling Bee website lists the current sponsors.
As a speller wins he or she moves on to the next larger contest, usually a district or county bee, and finally to a regional bee, which decides the contestants for the national bee in Washington. The regional bees are highly competitive in that only one winner from each of the regional bees is allowed to continue to the national Bee.
A great way to become comfortable with the process is to attend a spelling bee or watch a movie about them. Akeelah and the Bee, as discussed above, or the documentary Spellbound, which follows several spellers participating in the National Bee, are both very informative as well as entertaining.
As you watch a bee, you’ll notice a few things that spellers do to increase their chance of spelling a word correctly. During a bee, you’ll want to get as much information about the word as you can.
You can ask for the part of speech of the word, the definitions, and any alternate pronunciations that the word may have. This will give you time to focus on the spelling and to be certain you are thinking of the right word.
If you still are unsure, you can ask to have the word used in a sentence and you can also ask for the word’s origin. This can help if you have studied a foreign language or the history of words (etymology.)
The Spelling Bee website offers some great resources for getting prepared as well as listing the rules of the contest.
As you become familiar with the Beginning words you can move on to the Intermediate words, some of which are difficult, depending on your age and reading experience. Advanced words are not everyday vocabulary words and will take a longer time to learn.
The Updated Spelling Bee List, also available on the site contains more than 100 Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists dating as far back as 1950. It appears in four sections and is free from the website as a PDF file.
While the advanced spelling bees do use words from the Paideia in the first rounds, the words later in the competition come from outside the lists. The National Bee draws their words from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and you can easily study with Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder.
A list of 25 Championship Words is used to determine the ultimate winner once only two or three spellers are left. However, if there is more than 1 speller left at the end of the Championship list, co-champions will be awarded. Once a speller has won the National Spelling Bee, he or she can no longer compete.
Winning spelling bees does take hard work and determination. While winning the national championship may or may not be something you aspire to, even just participating can reward homeschoolers with an enriched vocabulary, a sense of accomplishment, and a healthy sense of competition and goal-setting.
More On Homeschool Spelling and Vocabulary
Fun Ways to Help Your Homeschooler with Spelling