Big Vocabulary Benefits: How building vocabulary can help kids overcome literacy delays
Recently, I was talking to a parent who was concerned about her youngest child, aged 10 and in grade 5 at school.
Her child is reading at a low level for her age and seemed unmotivated to improve as she would quickly lose interest if there were too many “unknown” words. The child had also suffered ear infections and had grommets in her pre-schooling years, which is a common risk-factor in development of essential pre-literacy skills – such as the ability to easily sound out unfamiliar words.
My response to the parent was, “I have noticed her vocabulary is very good, she understands and uses a wide variety of words and language. You are also introducing her to new words all the time, which will help her a lot.”
I could tell by the surprised look on the parent’s face that she’d not recognized that a healthy vocabulary was such a contribution to addressing literacy delays.
Why Vocabulary Counts
Having a diverse vocabulary can act as a real support skill for other literacy skills that are slower to develop. If you have good vocabulary, it really leverages the development of reading and writing skills, not to mention your general communication of thoughts, feelings and perspectives.
And, maybe I am biased, but I believe having more words available to communicate and be creative with is also a lot of fun – it promotes inventiveness, curiosity and playfulness as you engage with the world around you.
Discovering Words Together
Here are some of my tips of how you can encourage your kids (and even yourself!) to play with extending vocabulary.
There are a few categories of words to be aware of:
1. Names of things
Nouns - place, people and thing names - are really fun to play with. Beyond the usual items around the house, what other things are there that could be fun to introduce and talk about.? If your child has an interest in a certain subject, say trains for example, what things are associated with that interest that might be a little more rare or unusual? It could be types of trains, parts of trains, items associated with trains, or words used historically in regard to trains that are not so common anymore. Not only can doing this increase vocabulary, but it could even inspire more concerted efforts to read and communicate, as they are motived by what is fun for them.
2. Action words
Also known as verbs, action words are very fun to play with. A common game we use in therapy is what other funny or different words can we come up with? For example, with the word walking, we have: limping, ambling, strolling, shuffling, loping, marching, waddling, dawdling, and so on. How many can you come up with?
These are words such as: on, in, under, after, before and so on. While variations may not be as plentiful as with other categories of words, you can still introduce variety in prepositions to help naturally stretch their vocabulary. For example, under could also be beneath, underneath, or below.
4. Describing words
Adjectives are describing words, and they are a playground for engaging your senses! How much fun can you have exploring alternative words to describe tastes, sounds, smells, sights and sensations that you come across daily?
Overused words like “boring” can become an opportunity to encourage word expansion. Is it really boring? Or is it dull? Monotonous? Tedious? Soporific?
Onomatopoeia are some of the most fun words to play with in this category, especially for young kids. These are the words that mirror the sounds they mimic, for example: splosh, splash, whop, wallop, thump, wobble, snip, snap, click, clack, hiss, hum, buzz etc.
Making Words Fun
While traditional ways of learning word and reading can seem a slog to many, there’s more than one way to approach literacy and develop a love for words and reading! Children and fun are a fertile combination. Overcoming literacy delays will be greatly enhanced by the elements of curiosity and play we include when introducing words and language. What ways can you make it more fun for your child (and you) to discover the wonderful world of words?
is always learning and curious - just like the kids (and adults) at her clinic. As a Mum and speechie, Andrea knows that supporting your kids growth and confidence can be unpredictable and overwhelming. In her blog, she offers tips, insights and information to facilitate more ease and joy for you and your child, whatever their learning and development journey may be!