The early years of childhood are a wonderful time to help your children develop vocabulary skills that will greatly benefit their later reading comprehension skills.
Research clearly links vocabulary development to successful readers. Children love to use big words, and the words of mature language users, such as precious, enormous, delightful, and exhausting are words that children will later be reading. However, in order to understand what is read, a child needs to know the meanings of 90-95 percent of the words being read (Lyon, 2009).
It is never too early to begin introducing your child to mature words. Hart and Risley’s classic study (1995) showed that starting at 18 months there is a word exposure gap between children of professional parents versus those from families of poverty. By age four this gap has grown to a 32 million word difference.
Children need to hear a word about 12 times before they know it well enough to improve their comprehension (Biemiller, Nagy & Anderson). Keep talking when you are with your children. Explain what you are doing and describe what you see. “I am going to wash these vegetables for supper. These tomatoes are large, ripe, and juicy. They will be delicious on our burgers tonight.”
At the grocery store, walking to the park, visiting shops, whenever you converse with your children use the big words in conversation and extend the meaning for them. At a family gathering, you may comment on the “scrumptious” burger instead of just saying, “It’s good.” After a hike, if your child comments that he or she is tired, you may add, “I am exhausted too! We hiked a steep incline to reach the top.”
Remember to use big words that help children acquire real-life information. The Common Core State Standards stress the importance of children being able to understand informational text. Using words such as incline instead of hill, describing animals’ homes as habitats, and comparing and contrasting the different foods you eat for dinner are great ways to build informational vocabulary.
The other day, my young grandson asked if I would play legos with him and I replied, “I will as soon as your sister finishes her bottle and is in her crib for her nap.” He replied, “How many ounces does she have left?” He clearly had been exposed to this unit of measurement.
Talking with your children and encouraging them to use many different words is a genuine gift that you can give them. It will have an impact on them throughout their school days and build a strong vocabulary foundation as well as improve their reading comprehension.