Written by: Julie Provencher
Did you know that achievement in reading is deeply rooted in the area of vocabulary skills development? Did you know that a number of children start struggling with low-level reading skills by the end of grade four? Then, it seems as though they no longer master reading; a contrast to the past, a time when they would do quite well as first or second graders. These sudden difficulties in reading tend to arise when a child faces schoolbooks filled with an increasingly wide range of vocabulary and reading lessons swarming with new words. Perhaps not surprisingly, reading or doing research projects on New-France or less familiar topics can make reading more challenging.
As difficulty unfolds, this challenge is met by the child with confusion; new words start making their way from one sentence or page to the next... The main source of the child’s embarrassment is by then his lack of vocabulary. The gap widens even further as he stops reading (Over time, children who read less acquire smaller vocabulary than those turned into readers.)
Most of the time, word acquisition occurs spontaneously for a child. For example, it can happen simply by listening to or taking part in discussions or during bedtime stories. However, I, myself ―a mother of two―often wonder what I could do to improve the vocabulary skills of my two little ones. Hence, I’d like to share with you some reading hints that helped me foster vocabulary growth with my children.
I always make it a point to refrain from using childish words such as “boo-boo” (wound) or “choo-choo” (train). What I do instead is calling objects or events by their proper names. Basically, I try to use vocabulary that is varied. As a result, I refer to “wounds” or “trains” most of the time and encourage children using different words to express one given idea: “You can also say 'vehicle'.”
Several studies cite how talking to your children is important; it is however no less important that you listen to your children talk. Insights and learning are gained when a child uses the same vocabulary on different occasions.
One pleasant way to make your child tell you something in his own words consists of using books without text; their large-size illustrations make them wonderful learning tools. I encourage my child to pick one up and tell me a story spontaneously; all I do is provide encouragement and help him clarify his thoughts. Another way is to use comic strips without text (Libraries make multiple copies available.)
“How should I slice your toast? Do you want two halves or four equal pieces?” One day, your child will be required to read, understand mathematical problems and be exposed to words potentially difficult for those readers who have never encountered them before. In my day-to-day activities, I have fun encouraging my children to use the appropriate vocabulary (centimetres, metres, etc.) to describe geometrical shapes (a square, a rectangle, a circle). Along the same line, Friday night is pizza night, and there is no better time to talk about fractions: “Do you want a quarter or a sixth of it?”
I like reading to my children using a wide variety of books on one given topic, because in doing so, they begin to hear new words repetitively from one work to the other. Additionally, I take time to discuss the storyline with them; they unknowingly use unusual vocabulary to explain parts of the story. I also try to diversify my reading sources, choosing informational texts so that they expand their knowledge on a number of topics and work out the meaning of unfamiliar language (solar system, science, the Middle Age, musical instruments, etc.).
As for older children, reading the paper and discussing hot topics with them are effective means toward this end. It’s no easy task for a 14-year-old to grasp the broad concepts of government, democracy, freedom and finances. However, little by little, parents can lead their children to a deeper understanding of these abstract concepts.
In conclusion, facilitating vocabulary acquisition of young children is tantamount to giving a daily collection of words as a gift; words they will integrate into everyday life, words that will help further specify their thoughts...words they will come across one day as part of their reading activities. It goes without saying that parents play a key role in children’s literacy achievement. This kind of support has a tremendous impact on reading success.
Encouraging Your Child's Vocabulary Development and Reading Comprehension Skills
Use Words to Teach Words
The “Développement du vocabulaire et apprentissage de la lecture” section of the website www.pouvoirdelire.com (French only).
A record from Naître et grandir, an organization dedicated to the development of reading skills http://naitreetgrandir.com/fr/dossier/lire-aux-tout-petits/ (French only)
An article entitled “Apprentissage du vocabulaire : la lecture serait bénéfique”
http://www.mamanpourlavie.com/lu-vu-entendu/aimer-la-lecture/840-apprentissage-du-vocabulaire-la-lecture-prescolaire-serait-benefique.thtml (French only)
Julie Provencher is passionate about stimulating and teaching children to read. As a mother, lecturer and educational consultant, she has just completed a research project with the University of Montreal entitled "L'impact de l'accompagnement parental sur le développement de la lecture d'un enfant de 5 ans," (The impact of parental support on the development of a five-year-old child's reading skills).
She is also the founder of the web community Twitter @Pouvoirdelire, which offers daily reading tips for parents with young children. www.pouvoirdelire.com.