It is also said that one of the best predictors of success in reading is the quantity of words children know. While there is a correlation between words known and reading ability, and good reading comprehension requires a good vocabulary, a good vocabulary does not guarantee good reading comprehension.
This means that just because you improve your child's vocabulary, it does not mean that they will automatically comprehend what they read. Unfortunately, reading comprehension and interpretation requires more than that. It requires the ability to relate and connect with the ideas presented. Simply knowing the meaning of the individual words is not enough.
However, the value of a good vocabulary at any age cannot be ignored or underestimated. Later in life, personal impressions in social and business situations can often be influenced by vocabulary knowledge.
The following are ideas that parents can use to develop their child’s vocabulary.
- Plan Ahead. Plan to include new vocabulary words that you can easily introduce into conversations with your child. Some topics discussed are predictable and recur on a regular basis, from day to day or week to week. Other discussions are less predictable.
- For topics that you discuss on a regular basis (your child visiting his friends, dinner preparation), think of different words for stating your message.
- If you’re about to discuss reasons people shouldn’tt be late for appointments, consider using “tardy” instead of “late.” Let’s say you’re going to speak to your child about a family automobile trip to a nearby town she’s visited often.
- Think of new words to describe what you know she’ll see. You might use “edifice” to describe a large building, “pasture” a “field,” “facade” the front of a building.
- Use Repetition and Replacement. Repeatedly hearing the same new words is essential for vocabulary growth. A new word, once learned, should not be allowed to be forgotten like an old toy. As a parent, you should model its use whenever possible so that your child knows the word is part of the family’s language. For example, instead of saying “automobile,” often say “vehicle.” The more you use “vehicle,” the greater the likelihood your child will learn it and use it.
- Discuss Words. New words are best learned when they’re connected to known words. Have a family discussion (during dinner perhaps) about words with the same word part. For example, “astronaut” can easily be related to “astronomy,” “astrology,” “astronomical,” astronomer,” and even the “Houston Astros” baseball team. They all have “astro” in common. “Aquifer” can be related to “aquarium,” “aqueduct” and “aquatic.”
- Word discussion is also important because it encourages children’s interest in the history or etymology of words. Your child will start to make connection between words that have common parts. Soon, on his own, he may see and learn the common parts of words, such as “bio” (life) and “logy” (study of the field of) in biology. He might use this knowledge to figure out the meaning of “biology” on his own.
- Give Positive Feedback. Complimenting your child for using a new word is essential for the continued growth of vocabulary. Your feedback should focus on your child’s success, not on pleasing you. Thus, it’s better for you to say “You should be proud of yourself for using ‘establish’” than to say “I’m proud of you for using ‘establish.’” When I taught elementary school, I complimented my students profusely when they used “recently taught vocabulary.” Before I knew it, they were incorporating recently taught vocabulary words into class discussions. And much to my pleasure, I often heard them use those words in the lunchroom.
- Encourage Reading. One of the most successful ways for children to increase their vocabulary is to read, read, read. The more your child reads, the more likely she’ll see new words. When she asks you about the meaning of a new word, encourage her to figure out the meaning herself. Say, “What do you think it means?” Don’t automatically send her to the dictionary. In some situations, the dictionary can help. However, finding a word in a dictionary does not always help children understand how it’s used in a story. By trying to figure out the meaning of a word—without a dictionary—you encourage your child to think. As a result, she’ll remember the word better.
As you nurture your child’s vocabulary, you should also augment your vocabulary because vocabulary development is never complete.
Development can, should, and needs to continue throughout your life and as you show your child that you’re working to learn new words, you give him a wonderful gift: an excellent model for lifelong learning.