As your child continues with their schooling journey, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is engage them in activities that will grow their minds. Having a good vocabulary will improve your child’s speaking, reading, writing and understanding of phonics, so it can be crucial to implement some vocabulary improvement strategies.
With all this in mind, you may be wondering, what methods can you use to help to improve your child’s vocabulary?
It’s a difficult task! If you find yourself in need of support, get in touch with one of our tutors based in Kirribilli or anywhere else in Sydney! Are you in Queensland or Victoria? We provide tutoring help in your state as well!
We’ll be diving into several key strategies for vocabulary improvement that’ll get your child engaging in rigorous discussion. So, let’s get started!
Why does your child need a good vocabulary and how can you improve it?
Though children who are skilled in language-based thinking are more likely to adopt new words with ease, vocabulary largely comes down to our environment. Early and frequent exposure to words can greatly sharpen linguistic knowledge.
Having a broad vocabulary has many benefits. In the short-term, it improves our reading comprehension and allows us to grasp concepts. It also assists us in clearly communicating ideas with a plethora of word options.
Vocab is also important for language development. If your child is exposed to many words at a young age, they will be able to use them in their own speech and thinking.
If we look at longer-term implications, a strong vocabulary is suggested by researchers to predict and enhance occupational success.
It’s clear that vocab is important, so how will we improve it in our children?
Through the article, we are going to be talking about the sharpening of vocab in two ways. First, children need exposure to new words. This may come from listening to their grandparents, books, or TV and general experience. Children then need repetition and context in which to understand these words.
You will notice that the improvement strategies we talk about combine these two elements, which will optimise your child’s chance to have a full vocabulary. The point isn’t to produce a living dictionary — instead, you want your child to be able to communicate effectively and have great language skills!
Method #1: Monkey See, Monkey Do
You’ve heard it before. Don’t set a bad example when your children are around — there’s probably many other things you’ve been told not to do near your kids. What if we flipped this?
Children learn by copying their parents. Though this can be daunting, it’s also a really important and exciting thing for development! You have an opportunity to aid your child in their language learning.
Anecdotally, I can still remember learning what ‘posthumous’ meant after I heard my dad use it on the phone when I was about 8. It’s an abstract memory, but it shows that learnt language sticks.
There’s a good chance you have a sharp vocabulary if you’re reading this article. It’s time to start using it!
Implementing words into conversations that are outside your child’s knowledge can help them learn new things. You may find they pick up words and use them without directly knowing what they mean, having learnt through association.
Even as adults we often do this. Words like ‘love’ or ‘hope’, which we can’t concretely define, are known as primitive words. As children develop, they will also be able to start fitting these words into broader concepts.
Some practical ways you can expose your child to new words through speaking are:
- Using words your child does not know, but that are of an accessible level, in conversations with them
- Allowing your child to hear conversations with other adults
- Exposing your child to areas where they are likely to learn new words (coffee shops, conversations at grocery stores, etc.)
Method #2: Encourage Reading (and lots of it)
For adults and children alike, one of the best ways to increase our vocabulary is through reading. Specifically, independent reading (or reading that we actually want to do, in our own time), seems to be most effective. When we read like this, we are readily exposed to new words and can figure out their meaning based on context.
There are several ways you can help your child to choose texts that maximise vocabulary:
- Help your child read many different genres (each will bring different sets of words to explore)
- Suggest they read a variety of authors
- Encourage your child to write down words they don’t know
It’s also important that your children are reading books within their ability. Anything too easy, or too hard, will not see the same benefits.
The Five Finger Rule is a great way to deduce this. Before your child starts a book, get them to turn to a random page and read it to you. Then, hold up a finger for every word they don’t know.
This is a basic guide:
- 0-1 Fingers: probably too easy
- 2: Your child will likely be challenged and learn new words
- 3: Your child may need some help, but this book could still be a good choice for learning!
- 4: This book is probably too hard for your child to read on their own, so they should choose a different book. If they are reading with you, this may work!
- 5: This book is likely too advanced. Pick a different one.
Encourage your child to keep reading and come to you for help and you will be on the right track!
Method #3: Use Real-World Activities
Many children learn best through tactility (there’s many benefits to this outside of language learning). Real-world experiences, like a trip to the zoo, or simply to the park, can be an opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary.
This is effective, because an expansion of knowledge and understanding of the world rapidly grows early literacy skills. It gives your child contexts in which to place new words, and ways and deduce meaning.
When on educational trips, here are some things you can do to help your child:
- Talk about what your child is seeing. Engage in meaningful conversation about what is around them. Repetition of words is an important factor for learning.
- Encourage your child to narrate what they are seeing or how they are feeling. You can suggest words that describe this new environment.
Remember, having a good vocab is as much about being able to use words effectively as it is about having dictionary knowledge. This vocabulary improvement strategy of creating new, exciting contexts for your children to explore can help them place words and increase their language skills.
Method #4: Engage in Imaginative Play
By playing with you and their peers, your child will naturally be introduced to new concepts and words to explore. Much like some of the previous vocabulary improvement strategies we discussed, imaginative play can introduce your child to varied contexts, where they will pick up words and their meaning by deduction.
Whether you’re dressed up as fairies, diving underwater, or making art, this is a creative way to introduce your child to words they may not already know.
You can also use games to very intentionally introduce news words. One example is ‘Mr Picky’ the puppet. Using any puppet of your choosing, tell your child that the puppet only likes words of a certain letter (e.g. ‘C’).
This will help your child to think of the words they know and use them effectively. For older children, you can encourage them to put words in a sentence or write it down.
Method #5: Promote Educational TV Shows
Get ready for a shocking statistic. Most children in Australia are spending well over two hours on screens each day. Crazy, right?
First, we must draw a distinction between educational content and general TV watching. There is a correlation between children watching excess TV and learning to talk more slowly than their peers. However, further study has shown that such speech delay can be linked to watching violent, or non-educational content.
Though we may see screen time as an inherently negative thing for kids, there are some language benefits to TV. When children watch educational shows, they are able to acquire language skills and new words.
The study we just talked about suggests that children who watch educational shows aren’t seeing the same issues in speech delay. Young children who watched shows like Arthur, Blue’s Clues, Dragon Tales, or Dora the Explorer had better vocabularies at 30 months of age than their peers.
Okay, what does all this science mean for your child? In short, it means watching good TV can grow their vocabulary!
Some good shows to grow vocabulary are:
- Art Blast
- Behind the News
- Mikki vs The World
- Play School
- The Wacky Word Show
- House of Sound
- What’s for Dinner?
- Tales from Around the World
Generally speaking, ABC Kids is a pretty solid bet for primary school students. You can also ask friends or look around on Facebook for ideas!
Shows like this not only increase your child’s knowledge, but provide a mediated, adult voice that can speak into different contexts and provide increased knowledge.
There you have it!
Growing and learning ways to improve your child’s vocabulary is a slow but steady process. The exciting thing is, language is a skill that your child can acquire and flourish in!
Keep working with your child to find what suits them best. Expose them to many different situations and keep using varied words! Hopefully, you will see them thrive.
If you’re on the look out for some spelling worksheets to help with their vocabulary, we’ve got some here that you can check out:
Looking for some extra help for your child with how to improve their vocabulary?
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We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!
To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!
Lucinda Garbutt-Young hopes to one day be writing for a big-shot newspaper… or maybe just for a friendly magazine in the arts sector. Right now, she is enjoying studying a Bachelor of Public Communication (Public Relations and Journalism) at UTS while she writes on the side. She also loves making coffees for people in her job as a barista, and loves nothing more than a sun shower.