Vocabulary Building

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., Sunshine House Chief Academic Officer

Experts have long told us children with more robust vocabularies do better in Kindergarten, but now we know the benefits stretch far beyond those foundational years. A recent article in Child Care Exchange called The Verbal Advantage highlights a study that shows a strong relationship between vocabulary and life achievement.

The author states, “Building a powerful vocabulary can help you advance in your career, because as you improve your skill with language you will become a better speaker, a better writer, a better reader, and a better listener. And, if you are all those things, you probably will be a more successful person.”

The great benefit of language is it is a free gift we can give every child. Children learn concepts, including new words, through active involvement and real-life context. Having vocabulary drills or having children repeat new words will not help them comprehend and appropriately use language. However, as a parent, there is a lot that you can do to help your child take advantage of the wonderful world of words. Use the below tips to support your child in gaining a healthy vocabulary:

Talk with your child
Children who hear more words, learn more words. Turn off the DVD player on the way home and talk about what you see. Use descriptive words to talk about what you are having for dinner. Describe what you do as you are starting a load of laundry. Even if your child is not an active participant in each conversation, he is hearing and taking in new words.

Learn and use rare words with your child
We tend to use the same boring words over and over again. Make it a challenge to learn new and rare words with your child. Buy a “Word of the Day” calendar or sign up for a “Word of the Day” newsletter to learn a new word every day. Look for ways to use these words as you go through your day. Instead of talking about the big house on the corner, you can use the word “gargantuan” or “humongous” or even “ostentatious.”

Read with your child
The situations and characters encountered in a wonderful story are those that may be unfamiliar and outside of what a child might experience in everyday life. These new situations allow for the introduction of new and interesting words.

Pretend with your child
When children pretend, they take on characters that challenge them to use words that they would not use in their day-to-day lives. For example, your child may never have to use the word “stethoscope,” but a doctor might use it every day. While your child may not use this new word often, it is beneficial to have it filed away so she can access it later.

Words are fun. Play word games together, read together, and take advantage of every opportunity to engage your child in conversation. Along with building a solid relationship, you are sowing a strong vocabulary field from which your child will reap benefits for years to come.