Are you clever? Shrewd? Canny? Or just plain brainy? For those in the know, these words are different examples of ways to say the same thing: you are smart (of course!). How can you learn to use a wide variety of words like these? The answer is to read, read, read! The more you read, the better your vocabulary becomes. Building a good vocabulary through reading is very important for children. The more words a child reads, the more words she or he will learn and eventually use (and use correctly) when they speak and when they write.
Photo by Ness Kerton for AusAID, Creative Commons license
Why is it important that your child know a lot of words? Because children who have strong vocabularies do better in school. Building your child’s vocabulary-before they even say their first word- gives your child an advantage that can’t be beat. Growing up, my house was filled with books and magazines, and the arrival of the Sunday newspaper was a highlight of the week. Both of my parents were avid readers, and served as “reading role models” for me. I therefore became a voracious reader from a young age, so much so that I would sometimes get into trouble for reading when I should have been doing other things (like get ready for church, for example). In school, I was an excellent student, and the foundations for my academic success were laid by my parents even before I began kindergarten.
Are today’s children reading enough, however? It seems that they aren’t. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, American students’ vocabulary skills are falling behind. This directly affects how well do they do in school, and not for the better. But merely telling students to read more is not enough. As former educator John Tierney writes, “Students with weak vocabularies have poor reading comprehension. As a result, they don’t like to read. A cycle of cumulative deterioration sets in.” In other words, students with poor vocabularies may find it frustrating to spend large amounts of time reading because they have trouble understanding what it is that they are reading. Because they don’t spend enough time reading, their vocabularies don’t improve. And on and on it goes. In school, this translates to students not being able to grasp the necessary information from a text, not being able to make oral presentations with confidence, or being poor writers.
As their child’s first and most important teachers, what can parents do to build their child’s vocabulary skills? Start at home. To build your child’s vocabulary, read to your child, as much as possible and as earliest as possible. Be a “reading role model” for your child. Put away the electronic screens, and get lost in a good book or interesting magazine article. Also, speak to your child. Don’t be afraid to teach your child words he or she may not immediately understand. If they see you read and listen to you use new words in context, they will embrace what they see and hear. Your child, then, might just become a word aficionado.