Building Your Child's Vocabulary

Are you a reader?  Do you have a large expressive vocabulary – in English or another language?  Do you spend time asking your child about her day, prompting with questions that encourage her to add more detail?  Do you speak about words and their meaning?  How will your kids know these things are possible, let alone important, if you don’t?

Think about it.  Your kids are watching every move you make.  The more varied your vocabulary, the more varied your child’s will be.  If you’re reading a book after dinner, chances are good they’ll be curious about what’s so interesting.  The same thing with words.  If you take the time to talk about words and explore new words, they’re going to find words of interest, too.  The kids will follow your example.
I find the best times to talk words is at a meal, when driving in the car, or right at bed time.  It’s easy enough to start the discussion.  If it’s bed time, make up a story.  If you’re all at the table or in the car, just challenge your kids to think of five different ways to say the same thing.  For instance, challenge them to come up with five ways to describe a person crossing a room.  The possibilities are endless but chances are good they’ll at least come up with walk and run.  It’s up to you to introduce other words.  Words like amble, perambulate, skitter, hop, dash, jump, gyrate…  You get the idea.
How are you going to do this if you don’t have a great vocabulary?
Get a good thesaurus for kids.  I like the Scholastic Children’s Thesaurus I wrote about in an earlier post.  You’ll find it in KidWriteBooks or at your local bookstore.  This thesaurus includes definitions and is good for starting out.  (The Scholastic Student’s Thesaurus is excellent for middle school kids with a good basic vocabulary.  It doesn’t include the definitions but it does have words that aren’t included in the Children’s Thesaurus.)
Pick a word family.  All the words for fear or all the words for anger, for example.  Go over the words until you’re certain you have the nuances firmly in mind.  That way, when you’re talking about the words with your kids you’ll be able to help them get just the right word for what they’re trying to say.
Be dramatic.  Kids love when their parents are a bit goofy – as long as their friends aren’t around!  Act out the words with them.  Make the definitions memorable.
Relax.  You’ve got nothing to lose and if you succeed, your children will have richer vocabularies as a result!