Learning to read is not like climbing a mountain. You do not simply lead your child over a peak and they then become a skilled reader.
Instead there are a series of skills and building blocks that children gradually acquire and then continue to build on for years before they become truly proficient readers.
One of those essential skills is vocabulary. Vocabulary refers to the words we must know to communicate effectively by listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Vocabulary plays an important part in learning to read. Children use words in their oral vocabulary to make sense of the words they see in print. Vocabulary is also important in reading comprehension. Readers cannot understand what they are reading unless they know what most of the words mean.
While vocabulary is essential to reading children begin building their vocabulary long before they begin learning to read and continue building their vocabulary long after they have mastered the basics of reading. In fact, for most people, vocabulary building continues as a lifelong endeavor.
Children can be taught vocabulary both indirectly and directly. Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language. We teach children the meaning of words as we talk to them and explain the world around them. We expand vocabulary through reading to our children and eventually our children will add to their vocabulary by reading extensively on their own.
Children learn vocabulary directly when they are explicitly taught both individual words and word-learning strategies.
It is useful to teach children specific words before reading because it helps both vocabulary learning and reading comprehension. Repeatedly exposing children to vocabulary words in a variety of contexts brings greater depth to their understanding of the word as well as recognition. It is also important that children learn how to use dictionaries and other reference aids to learn word meanings and to deepen knowledge of word meanings.
Children who are learning to expand their reading vocabulary also must learn how to use information about word parts (such as affixes, base words, word roots) to figure out the meanings of words in text through structural analysis or how to use context clues to determine word meanings.
If you want to expand your child's vocabulary there are two additional strategies you can employ. First, don't talk down to them. Use the same vocabulary you would use with an adult. They will learn some words from simple contextual clues you provide but they will also ask what a word means offering you the chance to add that word to their vocabulary. The second strategy is to expand your own vocabulary. Making learning new words (and adding them to conversation) a game or fun activity for the whole family.
The more books and conversation are a part of your child's life then the more their vocabulary will continue to grow.
By Deanna Mascle