Understanding the meaning of words is important to understanding what is being read. A student with a large listening and speaking vocabulary has an advantage when learning to read because reading comprehension relies primarily on knowing the meaning of individual words in a passage (Hall and Moats, 1999; Armbruster et al., 2001). Children learn words both indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language, and directly, for example, by the parent providing specific word-learning instruction (Armbruster et al., 2001).
Below are some activities that you can do with your child to promote vocabulary development:
- Use time in the car or on the bus to talk. Narrate everything you do (e.g., I’m emptying the dishwasher. The dishes are clean. This is a big, blue bowl!)
- Take field trips to the library, zoo, or park. Talk about everything you see and experience while you are there and when you get home.
- During mealtime, describe your day and ask your child to do the same. Talk about the hardest part of the day and the best part of the day. Each family member gets a turn. Ask questions so your child elaborates on his/her descriptions.
- While you read to your child, ask her to point to items in the pictures that you name. Also, point to items and ask him/her to name each item. Pointing to the different words and talking about what is happening in the pictures will help your child learn new words and explain different things.
- Read books. When books are read again and again, children can learn unfamiliar words and understand the word with the help of pictures. New words, within the language of sentences, helps children learn the words and complex sentence structures.
Introduce New Words at the Grocery Store
Talk out loud to your child as you select items and put them in the cart. Name foods as you pass them in the aisle and use new words to describe the food. "These bananas are so yellow and ripe. We can have these for lunch. Let's put those ripe bananas down gently, so they don't get bruised."
Questions are great conversation starters and can help children explore their thinking. At this age, children enjoy the "which do you like better" game. For example, "Which do you like better: swings or slides?" Follow up with "Why?" to encourage them to clarify their thoughts.
Expand on Observations
When your child shares an observation, expand on what he notices. You can help him feel heard while teaching new information and vocabulary. When your child points out the full moon, take a moment to talk about the cycles of the moon. When your child notices a stop sign, make it a game to find and identify other traffic signs.