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?
Voice care tips for teachers
The first term of a new schooling year has many new challenges: getting to know your students, establishing the classroom expectations and environment, and of course communicating, instructing, and raising your voice over excited chatter and wandering attention spans!
Vocal strain is highly common amongst teachers, and without healthy voice care practices in place, chronic and permanent vocal problems can develop.
Here is a quick self-assessment checklist to see if you may be experiencing signs of vocal stress:
Now, more than ever, is a good time to establish some healthy habits with your voice and avoid stress, strain and vocal loss. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:
If you have consistent ongoing vocal discomfort, loss or strain, or a hoarse or croaky voice, you might benefit from a visit to your local speechie to learn techniques for healthy ways of speaking up without straining those precious vocal cords!
Parents often dream of cuddling up with their little one and reading through their first story book. But in reality, many children are initially far more interested in pulling books off the shelf, piling them up or throwing them around than sitting still while you read through one!
Fortunately, introducing and exploring books and stories together with your child can be easy and fun, with a few simple tips to get you started:
1. Create a comfortable atmosphere for storytelling.
Turn off TVs, iPads and other electronic devices (phones on silent!). Create a special setting for both of you, whether cuddled up on the couch, cushion or bean bag, snuggled next to them in bed, or sprawled out on the play-room rug.
2. Don’t expect them to sit still or listen to you for long!
Don’t get discouraged or assume something is wrong if you get the book out, open up to start reading, and they are 'done' after 30 seconds or one page. In fact, in the initial phases, don’t worry about reading the book at all. Creating the atmosphere and inviting your child to associate books with fun and curiosity should be your initial target.
3. Use ‘board books’ or books hard to rip or tear.
There are plenty of ‘toddler-friendly’ books made from thick/stiff cardboard, textiles and other not so easily ripped materials to allow for enthusiastic handling. Give your child allowance to handle the book, flip through it over and over, be a little rough or play around with it. In the beginning, it’s more important that they engage with books, rather than how they engage with them… that will come!
4. Don’t aim to read the book.
Don’t worry about reading the words or following the story narrative of the book. Engage and interact with the book at the level that your child will enjoy. This could be looking at the pictures and talking about them or making noises associated with machines, animals or characters in the book: 'Oh look, what’s this? It’s a car!' 'Oh, it’s windy! Whoooooshhh!' 'There’s a cow, Moo!' 'Choo-choo, it’s a train!' or even just sitting together and making a game of flipping the pages: 'What’s over the page? 1,2,3… turn it over!'
5. Introduce a toy or prop to bring characters and stories to life.
Choose a book with a character that you can match with a small toy or object. For example, if the main character is a dog, you can use a small plastic dog figurine or plush toy dog and use that toy to ‘act’ out an activity or part of the story (for example if the dog is jumping in the book, you can make your toy character do the same). Again, don’t worry about sticking to the narrative or getting through the whole book. If you play with one or two pages before your child gets distracted or wants to do something else, that is not a problem. It all counts.
6. Don’t look for feedback or linear progress. If you get through the whole book one time, and next time 3 seconds is all you get, that's normal. Children rarely demonstrate their progression or growth in a linear or predictable way. Expect the unexpected and don’t be discouraged. Everything you do counts in the long run to the overall target of creating joyful interaction with books. So keep going, and most importantly, have fun together!
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!