Learning new words can be a good time for the whole family.
Building vocabulary is essential to success. According to the Johnson O’Conner Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has studied human abilities and aptitudes since 1922, vocabulary level is the best predictor of overall success in school and of performance on the SAT-Verbal and other similar tests. A characteristic of successful people in many occupations is a large and exact vocabulary.
When children are babies, we can’t wait for them to learn to talk. Parents instinctively teach their infants vocabulary by reading to them, identifying objects and through conversation. Small children learn literally thousands of words. As children reach school-age, they are introduced to more vocabulary through their weekly lists of words and reading.
Vocabularies grow when kids read, write and converse. Memorizing vocabulary lists is dull work. Parents can help their school-age children expand their vocabulary with some fun strategies.
Make Learning Vocabulary Fun
When your child comes home with a list of words she has to know by the end of the week, write each word on one side of an index card. Flip the card over and write the definition. Put the cards on the dining room table, and during dinner, pass a card to each member of the family. No one is allowed to speak unless they are using the vocabulary word in a sentence. Once the word is used, select another card. The person who has correctly used the most words at the end of the meal wins the game.
If your child doesn’t have a school-generated vocabulary list, post a family word-of-the-day. Be creative, and hang the words in the bathrooms, on the refrigerator or in the car. Incorporate the words into daily conversations. When playing Scrabble or other word games, give bonus points for using the special words.
Share a New Word
Once a week, have each family member share a new word she has encountered. Mom and Dad should look for and look-up new words while they are reading the newspaper, a novel or even a cookbook. As kids get older and their vocabulary expands, they will enjoy stumping their parents with their knowledge.
Even if your child is an avid reader, don’t assume her vocabulary is growing. Children and adults are guilty of skipping over unfamiliar words to get on with the story. Readers rely on context clues and don’t stop to use a dictionary. Keep dictionaries easily accessible in your home. Kid-friendly tools include DK Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary (DK Publishing) and the American Heritage (Pearson Software) children’s software. Show your child how to use a dictionary on the Internet – www.encarta.com will pronounce the word aloud.
Encourage children to stop and look up the unfamiliar words they read or hear in conversation or on the television. Merriam- Webster’s website, www.wordcentral.com, is geared toward kids and has a student dictionary and daily buzz word.
Listen to Books on Tape
Parents and their children can share a book by listening in the car, which makes commuting and travel time pass quickly. Everything from classics such as Where the Red Fern Grows to the Harry Potter series is available on audio. Check your local library or bookstore. Remember, children can listen to books that are beyond their reading level, and parents can stop a tape to discuss an unfamiliar word. As a special bedtime treat, play a chapter of a book each night.
Mastering new words does not have to be a dull assignment. When the whole family plays with words, children will build their vocabulary.
Jim and Barbara Twardowski are freelance writers.
More Vocabulary-Boosting Ideas
Looking for more ideas? Try out some of these fun tactics to get your children talking with the best of them:
Read Aloud. Make the time special by reading with an expressive voice and use accents. Also, let your children read aloud to you.
Write Notes. Using vocabulary words, leave a special message under pillows or in lunchboxes.
Join a Reading Club. Check local bookstores to see if they sponsor a children’s program.
Go Online. Join a free online reading program such as www.bookadventure.org, which has a reading motivation program for students in grades K – 8. Kids create their own book list from the more than 6,000 titles on the site. After reading the book, kids take multiple choice quizzes on the books and earn points and prizes.
Let your kids play word games on the Internet.