Don't Let Vocab Take a Vacation!


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Updated on Jul 8, 2008

Many parents with young children recall Rick Moranis’s character in Parenthood—the guy obsessed with increasing his toddler’s vocabulary, to the point of absurdity. And, yet, as absurd as this character’s mission was, parents can relate to his desire to have a small child with an exceptional vocabulary. On the one hand, it’s just cute. And on the other hand, parents know that a good vocabulary at a young age is indicative of future learning success.

Professionals in early childhood education don’t recommend that parents follow the lead of Moranis’s character, but there are many ways parents can be effective in developing their children’s vocabulary without being overbearing. Gabriel Miller, vice president of education and literacy programs at Reading Is Fundamental, says there are two things parents can do with their children on a daily basis to improve vocabulary: talk and read.

“Conversations—oral language—provide a foundation for children’s reading, writing, and vocabulary,” Miller says. “Parents can make time to chat every day. Ask about the day’s events and share your own experiences. Whether at the dinner table, at breakfast, or before bedtime, these moments reinforce the emotional health of a child.”

Miller says that reading to children strengthens parent-child bonding, and it also allows unknown vocabulary to be introduced through situations that wouldn’t otherwise happen at home. “Reading provides new experiences and subject matter you can talk about with your child,” Miller says.

So don’t forget about building vocabulary at home this summer! Daily conversations and lap reading offer repeated opportunities for you to foster in your children a love of language. And these experiences will add joy to the daily summer routine, providing raw entertainment for both you and the kids. Kids respond best to schedules; for best results, set aside consistent times and places for reading and chatting this summer.

Here are a few tips for building your children’s vocabulary:

While talking:

Ask open-ended questions to illicit discussion. Questions such as “What do you think…?” “How do you think…?” and “Why do you think…” are good discussion starters and encourage children to participate in the discussion beyond one-word answers.

Make an effort to use synonyms. For instance, if you describe something as being “really big,” immediately follow up that description with “extremely large.” When children are introduced to synonyms on a regular basis, they are given opportunities to practice using their inference skills to figure out language on their own, and they are also allowed opportunities to become familiar and comfortable with a wide range of words.

While reading:

Stop and think aloud about what you just read. Say things like, “Hmm, I wonder why the author used the word enormous to describe the mountain? The mountain is really, really big. I guess the word enormous means “really big.”

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