Conceptualizing the underlying representations and cognitive mechanisms of children's spelling development is a key challenge for literacy researchers. Using the Representational Redescription model (Karmiloff-Smith), Critten, Pine and Steffler (2007) demonstrated that the acquisition of phonological and morphological knowledge may be underpinned by increasingly explicit levels of spelling representation. However, their proposal that implicit representations may underlie early ‘visually based’ spelling remains unresolved. Children (N = 101, aged 4–6 years) were given a recognition task (Critten et al., 2007) and a novel production task, both involving verbal justifications of why spellings are correct/incorrect, strategy use and word pattern similarity. Results for both tasks supported an implicit level of spelling characterized by the ability to correctly recognize/produce words but the inability to explain operational strategies or generalize knowledge. Explicit levels and multiple representations were also in evidence across the two tasks. Implications for cognitive mechanisms underlying spelling development are discussed.