by Katrina Morse
The words used in conversation and the written word are often completely different. Think about what you casually say to your child every day and then what you read to your child. Books, even children’s books, contain a richness of vocabulary that we don’t often find in daily language. It is through hearing these new words spoken, in the context of a story, that children build their vocabularies beyond a basic lexicon.
One of our favorite books is “A Splendid Friend, Indeed,” by Norwich, NY author, Suzanne Bloom. This is a very simple story about a sullen polar bear and an inquisitive goose. The text is made up of common words, except for “splendid” and “ indeed,” two words that are rarely used in daily conversation. When this book is read out loud by an adult, a child will hear the words of the book pronounced, hear words used in a sentence, hear words while looking at the accompanying illustrations, and then, will not only learn about new words, but will understand them.
At the end of Suzanne Bloom’s book, when the now-animated bear says to goose, “You are my splendid friend, my splendid friend indeed,” the child who has heard the book read aloud will have two new words to add to their vocabulary.
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says “As you read to a child, you’re pouring into the child’s ears (and brain) all the sounds, syllables, endings, and blendings that will make up the words he or she will someday be asked to read and understand.”(6th edition, p. 13)
Choose books for your child that introduce some new words, but not so many that the meaning of the story is lost. For pre-schoolers try “The Napping House” by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood, which uses synonyms for the word sleeping: slumbering, snoozing and dozing. “Chester’s Way” by Kevin Henkes contains a rich assortment of words that are not common to youngsters: diagonally, miniature, duplicated, disguised and fierce. “How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, uses some uncommon verbs: pout, stomp, roar and demand.
Even when your child is old enough to read to him or herself, read aloud to your child. A child’s listening level always exceeds her reading level. So, while a child may be reading picture books on his own, you can read a book aloud that is more advanced, like “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White. When you read aloud you are pronouncing words that are new to your child, and can talk about the meaning if your child doesn’t understand.
Trelease goes on to say, “It’s not the toys in the house that make the difference in children’s lives; it’s the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words.” Where are those words? In books.
Find these children’s book titles at the library and local booksellers. For more of our favorites visit the “Great Ideas” page of the Family Reading Partnership’s website:www.familyreading.org.