I would have children taught to read before they learn the mechanical arts of reading and writing…A child does not lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile “reading” the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books during the course of the morning`s “school,” increases with age. – Charlotte Mason
A wide vocabulary is a necessity to success in life – it will improve your child’s ability to understand other peoples ideas, to be able to read extensively (and comprehend what they read), and articulate their thoughts clearly to others. But I’m convinced that you do not need to purchase any additional curriculum in order to build your child’s vocabulary.
You can easily develop your child’s vocabulary through great literature. When they learn a new word in context, and see it repeatedly over time, they’ll retain it and add it to their own vocabulary. Learning new words in context just makes sense. The words will come alive within a story and burrow into their mind.
For example – if I just asked my child to randomly define this list of words:
They might do the assignment, but within a few days, they’ll have probably forgotten those words entirely. But, if they were to read this passage:
“From there it’s a simple matter of entering the Mountains of Ignorance, full of perilous pitfalls and ominous overtones – a land to which many venture but few return, and whose evil demons slither slowly from peak to peak in search of prey.” - The Phantom Tollbooth
Suddenly, all of those words come to life and make sense.
Even before your child learns to read, you can be developing their vocabulary, by reading the best literature you can find to them. But don’t just stop there – build your own vocabulary by peppering your every day chatter with big, delicious words. Instead of saying that you enjoy your meal, my might say that dinner is “scrumptious.” Or instead of asking your child to be nice, you could ask them to be “courteous”, and rather than call something beautiful, you might say it’s “ravishing” or “stunning.” I’m a big believer in not talking down to children – don’t be afraid of using big words – dialogue with them about anything and everything and explain when you use a strange word that they might not understand.
So how do I use the vocabulary words that come listed each day in the Build Your Library instructor’s guide?
For most day’s literature (or read aloud), I offer a list of vocabulary words that I think will challenge your child. In the early years, I encourage you to just go over those words orally with your child, either before or after the reading. Keep it simple – just read over the word and the definition, maybe talk about how it was used in the story, or why the author might have chosen that particular word.
With an older child, you might want to do a bit more – some things that I’ve done over the years:
Write a few of the vocabulary words on a small white board or sheet of paper and just let them look it over before the reading. Let them guess what the words might mean. Then after the reading, have them look at their guesses, and decide whether they were right or wrong. Talk about what the real meaning of the word is and have them write the correct definition.
Give your child the vocabulary words to define (after the reading), and then ask them to write them in an original sentence. Be careful not to do this too often, though, as it can quickly become tedious. I wouldn’t do this more than once a week.
You could also play computer games with the vocabulary words at Spelling City or Quizlet, both free.
The most important thing, however, is to read, read, read! Studies show that an average child needs to hear a word 14 times in order to use it fluently. What better way to expose them to language and all of it’s nuances than by reading beautiful literature!