"If you don't buy curriculum then how do you know what to do next and how do you come up with all the ideas?"
Friends, you don't have to reinvent the wheel and you don't have to buy ALL the things. There is a resource (and probably a free one) out there for everything your kiddos want and need to learn.
We've been doing vocab and spelling at the request of my older kiddo for a couple of years now. I've found a bunch of resources that we've used over the last few years and they've all been free! (Jump to the list)
Currently we are using a site called vocabtest.com. What I like about this site is that you can choose from their already created lists which are categorized by grade or you can create your own lists which is what we're currently doing.
We chose the later because I'm taking the opportunity to create lists that correlate with a book that we were reading. At the beginning of the week I input the words for that weeks list as well as, definitions, synonyms, parts of speech, and sample sentences. From there the website generates several games and quizzes with only the words from our list.
So at the start of the week our kiddo gets her new list, writes down, and defines all the words. Then throughout the week she plays the games to familiarize herself with the list then at the end of the week she completes the quizzes.
I signed up for a free account and chose to stick with the free version. The only real downside I've seen to that is there are ads but other than that we get to utilize the full functionality of the site.
We've used several other vocab sites before and enjoyed them all to varying degrees. This site in particular gives our kiddo the most autonomy.
Last year I found the site spelling-words-well.com. We handled spelling and vocab a little differently. I downloaded their 9th grade spelling list which has a couple hundred words. At the beginning of the week we would start going through the list and seeing which words she already knew how to spell with ease. If she got them right with no problem I'd check them off and keep going until we found 10 words that she either didn't know how to spell or couldn't clearly define. That is how we would build our list for the week.
After that she would write down her list, define each word including it's parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms. Throughout the week she would do things like use each word in a sentence, create a short story using all of her words, write the words multiple times, and other various activities. After 4 or 5 days of working on a list I'd quiz her to see if she had the spelling down for each one. If she got any incorrect those words would move over to the nexts weeks list.
For a couple of years before that we used homespellingwords.com. They also have a variety of lists to choose from as well as some simple (older) online games. We used their lists to practice spelling in a variety of hands on ways throughout the years.
We've made it habit when we're reading, watching, or talking and someone says a word we're unfamiliar with we stop what we're doing and look it up. We utilize dictionary.com and Google a lot. I often find that sometimes using synonyms to explain words is more helpful then the definitions. And reading and free writing (letting your kids write whatever they want without correcting spelling or grammar) really increases confidence and spelling and vocabulary proficiency.
In our experience I've found that giving our kids the space and freedom to read what they like and free write it has naturally aided in their ability to spell without even being taught. Not that I question their ability or their smarts but I'm always pleasantly surprised by how many words they know and how many words they know how to spell. Giving our kids space and time to absorb things when they're ready instead of forcing it on them because they've reached a certain age or stage. Trusting the process every step of the way.
Below you'll find a list of the sites mentioned above as well as a few other sites that I've found helpful when building or working with already created lists.
https://www.wefreeschool.com/resources (see the language art section for apps and other games)
Pinterest has all kind of fun spelling game ideas and we've done several. Check out these posts to see some of them: