If you’re a parent looking for quick tips to help your children grow as readers and writers, then you must visit Raising Happy Readers. Ruth Edwards’ site is full of gems like 11 painless tips for teaching handwriting and a series of posts to help kids understand what they read, along with links to the best literacy posts from around the blogosphere. I’m so thankful to have her guest posting today while we enjoy our new baby girl!
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I am so excited that Anna asked me to share my thoughts on how to develop children’s vocabulary! Kids start learning language and words from the day they’re born, so it’s never too early to learn some easy steps to enrich their vocabulary.
In the picture above, my one-year-old son and I are at a farm talking about sunflowers. People have been amazed at his extensive vocabulary since he started talking, and now that he’s six years old I feel like my approach has been field tested successfully! Thankfully, my teaching background and expertise in the field of early childhood literacy also back it up.
Why is a strong vocabulary important?
1. Research shows that the stronger the vocabulary, the better kids do in school.
A child from an upper middle class family enters kindergarten having heard approximately 45 million words, whereas a child from a poverty-stricken home enters with merely 13 million. It’s not a big surprise that the kids who come from homes with lots of language and words learn how to read more easily and do better with their studies in school.
2. A strong vocabulary helps improve listening comprehension, social conversations, writing, and the learning of specialized subjects.
Trust me, a great vocabulary is a very valuable gift to give to your child!
5 Tips for Improving Your Child’s Vocabulary
Tip #1: Talk All the Time
a. Talk to your baby.
Babies learn the rhythm of language and how to take turns in a conversation. Making eye contact and letting them have a “turn” in the conversation makes them feel like a real part of things and helps their confidence soar.
b. Have all kinds of conversations.
Researchers have found that children pick up rich vocabulary from you while you’re chit chatting. Families without much language in their homes tend to only speak for business reasons – “Eat your dinner,” “Put on your coat,” “I’m going to work,” etc. But when you start talking about interesting things you’ve seen or done, new words pop up everywhere!
c. Talk about what your children are doing.
Add words to their experiences as though you are a T.V. commentator. For example, “Look at you! You’re rolling on the floor! Ouch, did you hurt your head? Let me move you over here away from the table.” Each time you talk is an investment into their vocabulary bank.
d. Instead of correcting mistakes, model proper language.
Example: Your child says, “Momma disn’t like spiders!” – You repeat what your child said with the correct language – “You’re right, Momma doesn’t like spiders.” You’re reinforcing the right way without making it into a big deal or a negative situation by saying, “Disn’t is not a word. You should say DOESN’T.”
You can check out my post Using Window Clings for Literacy for a super simple idea for encouraging talking.
Tip #2: Make Reading Come Alive!
a. Make read aloud an interactive experience.
There is enormous power in reading aloud to learn new words. Make this interactive by asking questions, praising your child for paying attention, noticing new words, and following your child’s lead to see what he or she wants to talk about.
Children also need to see you model what good readers do. For instance, you might “think aloud” while you’re reading and make a prediction, “I wonder what will happen to that mean old dragon?” or reveal a confusing part, “I am not quite sure what is happening here – is he a nice guy or a bad guy?”
If you need help with prompts, use my free printable tip sheet for reading at home.
If you’re the parent of a toddler and thinking there is no way you can even get him or her to sit still long enough to read a board book, I feel your pain. Check out my post which shares eight useful tips for reading to busy toddlers.
b. Read language-rich picture books.
Here’s a neat list of books to build vocabulary over at Pragmatic Mom.
Tip #3: Discover New Words with New Experiences
a. New experiences don’t have to be expensive or far away.
The best thing you can do is to encourage naming lots of things and actively exploring with their five senses. This particular experience (pictured above) allowed us to use lots of color words, texture words (ooey, gooey, messy, smooth, slippery, wrinkled), and directional words (over, under, beside, around).
b. Everyday adventures/experiences could include arts and crafts, cooking, the grocery store, post office, bakery, restaurant, park, errands, the library, doctor’s office, etc.
c. Infrequent adventures/experiences could include farms, hiking trails, oceans, beaches, pools, vacations, festivals, carnivals, amusement parks, concerts, rodeos, pony rides, zoo, museums, etc.
Tip #4: Encourage Curiosity about Words
a. Try to always have the time to take your child seriously and answer questions about words.
b. Ask your child about a word he might not know. Be sure to follow up with, “Okay, tell me what it means.” This helps you double-check that your child is on the right track so you can help clear up any misunderstandings.
c. Collect new words.
The other component of encouraging curiosity about words is collecting some favorite words on index cards at your house or helping your child make creative word choices while writing. You can take a look at The Measured Mom’s post Help Young Writers Build Vocabulary: Put Boring Words in Jail! to help you get inspired for your young writers. I also love Home Literacy Blueprint’s vocabulary investigations.
Tip #5: Play with Language
a. Read and sing nursery rhymes, songs, and poems.
b. Play games.
- My post Lazy Summer Reading Ideas shares a number of reading games.
- A great game mentioned in the excellent book Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye is as simple as each person naming something they see (maybe while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office). Your child might mention something simple like a table and then you point to it. You pick something that might challenge their vocabulary knowledge a little bit like vent. If they can’t find it or don’t know what it is, you can point it out to them.
Other resources for building vocabulary:
- The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease – shares more information about the importance of vocabulary growth and reading to children
- SpellingCity.com – a great free resource for spelling and vocabulary games; you can even enter in your child’s list of words
- Reading Rockets webcast – shares a wealth of information about developing your child’s vocabulary
Now you know some easy tips and tricks to make learning new words a breeze. I hope that you enjoy watching your child’s vocabulary bloom! Please share if you have other ways of discovering words at your house!
Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Ruth taught in kindergarten and first grade classrooms for over eight years. She holds her certification as a Reading Teacher as well as a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Early Childhood Literacy. Now that Ruth has a six-year-old, she deeply understands busy parents’ need for quick activities to raise readers by working smarter, not harder. Ruth shares all of her finds and expertise on her blog Raising Happy Readers. She also pins lots of great literacy resources on her Pinterest boards.
BUILD VOCABULARY WITH OUR PICTURE CARDS!
500 Vocabulary Picture Cards
Picture cards are a fantastic way to build vocabulary, critical thinking, speech and language skills, and so much more. These cards are ideal for vocabulary building with children ages 3-8, English language learners, students in speech therapy, and children with autism or other special learning needs.