Children are amazing. Their little brains soak up new information so easily they put us adults to shame. New vocabulary is fundamental to a child's learning. And it's also wonderfully satisfying when your child comes home from school and tells you all about their day using new words they have learnt. So, how can we help our children build their vocabulary skills? Well, there are plenty of ways to encourage your child to learn new words. The most important and natural way though is by encouraging them to read. As Roald Dahl once wrote:
So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away. And in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.
I love books; always have. Probably why I studied English Literature at University (aside from the fact that I didn't know what to do with my life!) and the thought of all the great books I'd get to read was just too tempting. I've also passed on my love of reading to my children, which in my opinion, is a good thing.
Of course, I always try to make sure I read with them when possible. This way we can talk about the book and I can make sure they understand what they are reading. When this isn't possible (I have four kids aged 3, 6, 10 and 11 and often don't have the time to read as much as I'd like with my older kids), I make sure they are understanding by asking them to underline any words they don't understand so that we can go through them together.
I know when my children are enjoying the books they read because they are so excited to come and tell me everything that's just happened. I remember when my daughter was eight, and she'd just got a new book. It was about a boy in a dress (by David Williams if you've ever come across it). It was amazing to see how fascinated she was with this book. Every day she'd come home from school and rush upstairs to her room to have a quick read of a chapter before tea-time. She finished the book within three days which I have to say was the fastest she's ever read a book. Since then, she absolutely loves reading books and escapes into each and every one; just like we all do when reading a good story.
Getting children to read can often be a chore but there are ways to get past this. By finding books that will spark an interest in your child you can easily get them to enjoy reading. Reading for my son used to be a real chore. I'd say "Jack, what do you say we read a few chapters of that new book?" and the reply would always be either "I don't feel like reading right now" or "I'll do it later, I really want to watch this programme on TV". Well, that just wasn't good enough for me. But I'm not one to force people to do what they don't want to do. I'm more of a diplomatic 'I'll get you to do it in another way then', kind of person.
So, I went out and bought him a book about interesting animals and facts. My son loves animals and nature and practically anything green! And you know what? He loved it. Wouldn't put the book down. Read it cover to cover in just a few days and then read it again. He practically knew it off by heart; and he was six. And that's how his love of reading came about.
Now, getting him onto some good old fashioned novels was another hurdle. I'm a fan of the classics; when I was a child Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson were all over my bookshelf (they still are). My favourite novel ever when I was a child was Wuthering Heights; the name Heathcliff still sends a little tingle through me. And I remember the reason I loved it so much too. My English teacher at the time had such a wonderful way of explaining the symbolism expressed by Emily Brontè within the book that it sparked a life-long love of book interpretation in me. Oh the depths that can be reached within a book can consume a person.
And I wanted to pass this love onto my children, but it wasn't going to be an easy task, especially with the animal lover. SO, I took the time to sit with him and read a little bit of a classic novel together everyday. I chose Oliver Twist; no particular reason other than I felt he could maybe try and relate to the character, it's a great story full of emotions and it's fun to read, albeit a little longer than what he was used to. And it worked. Slowly, in the beginning, but we got there. I spent the time asking him to imagine what he thought Fagin would look like in real life or what kind of life Oliver would have had had he not been an orphan. I asked him to think about how he would have felt in little Oliver's shoes and what he thought of the cruel treatments so many orphans had to endure. We literally took the book apart, analysing different elements and imagining different scenarios. The best part for me when when we got to the end of the book and my son looked at me and asked "what shall we read next mum?" And with a sparkle in my eye I knew I had achieved what I set out to do. I had created a reader.
I've obviously become more experienced over time and reading with my little ones is always fun. In fact bedtime wouldn't be the same without the bickering over who's going to choose the book; between my six year old and my three year old. My older two are far too into their own books to bother with their little sisters. Interaction leads to imagination-building and I always try to involve them as much as possible. Just looking through the pages and asking them to point out something, to describe what colours they can see and to try and think of a different word for something are great little tricks. And my six year old always wants to read a part of the book too (much to the annoyance of my three year old). Aside from her private daily reading time of the book she brings home from school, bed-time has now become another chance for her to prove how much her reading has come on in the last few months. It's inspiring.
Knowing my children have embraced the art of reading books is a great achievement and one I can proudly say I have been a big part of. Books have inspired them to write stories of their own, play games involving made-up characters that have been inspired by books and a wonderful increase in their new word vocabulary that they would not have otherwise gained.
As Jane Austen once wrote:
I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.
And you know what. I have a library, always will have. Books give meaning and essence to life and a home is not a home without them. I'm sure my children will always have a place in their hearts for a great book and I'm also sure that their homes will be full of them.
Post By: Anna Michaelidou
Anna has been a private tutor of both English Literature and English Language for fifteen years having taught all levels from nursery school right through to university level. She has a BA (Hons) Degree in English Literature & Modern Languages, is a writer, content marketing executive and a busy mother of four lovely children.