This post is going to win me points with some and others will boo and hiss me out of the room. I’m going to say it anyway…
I don’t teach vocabulary.
No little index cards or notebooks or lists here.
Why? Because I don’t believe it works.
Personal story: When I was in 4th grade, we had these things called Power Words every week. This was a fancy name for Vocabulary Words (because no one likes the sound of “vocabulary words”). The ONLY word I remember from all those months of Power Words is this one…
That’s right. I only remember an alternate word for vomit. And the only reason I remember that word was because my friend Erin, who was a year older than me, told me about this Power Word when she was in 4th grade.
So, from the beginning of my homeschooling career, I have balked at the thought of vocabulary words. Sure, I’ve tried to introduce vocabulary words into our day in the traditional way because that’s what every good homeschool mom does, but it never lasted and my children seemed to have the same adverse reaction to the idea I had.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that vocabulary lessons done in the traditional way are unnecessary and do not accomplish the desired result of broadening a child’s vocabulary.
However, make no mistake, I believe children should have an extensive vocabulary. I just choose to take a different approach. Here’s a better way to help children build their vocabularies without dreary lessons and endless lists…
*Read great books – We all know the benefits of reading great books. Give your children good books to read and read good books to them. The best books use big words and big concepts in a palatable way. I love this list from Charlotte Mason Home Education that lines out twaddle-free books by age.
*Use big words throughout the day – It has always been my philosophy that children often can handle much meatier conversation than we give them credit for. It is important we do our best to add to our vocabulary as adults so when in conversation with our children, we can fill their ears with interesting words.
*Define the words you use as you speak – Before you imagine me going throughout my day sounding like a walking dictionary, allow me to give you an example of what I mean here. Suppose I tell my 4 year old, “Cleaning up the living room would be beneficial for everyone in the house.” More than likely, he is not going to know what the word “beneficial” means, but I can follow that sentence up with this one, “It is good for everyone if this room is tidy.“ These two sentences together offer a new vocabulary word and the definition in conjunction with one another in a setting in which they make sense. Your child will make natural vocabulary connections and begin to use these words themselves because they understand the meaning of the word.
*Reward them for using big words – No, I don’t mean you give them a treat every time they use a big word. In our family, we have a funny little tradition when someone uses a big word. We do a sort of flashing motion with our hands and say, “Big Word, Big Word!” We have a good laugh about it and move on with our conversation. You could “reward” your children by playing a game around the dinner table asking everyone to say a big word. You can play a game like Balderdash where children learn new words and their meanings in a funny and interesting way. The reward is in the enjoyment of using big words as a family!
*Teach your child how to use a dictionary – Not all of you will have a child who reads the dictionary like my 12 year old daughter, but teaching them how to use a dictionary is crucial to helping them broaden their vocabulary because they have the ability to look up any word they do not know the meaning of. Here’s a quick list of some websites you can utilize to teach dictionary skills in a fun way:
Teaching Basic Dictionary Skills
Dictionary Scavenger Hunts/Games
*Teach your child how to use a thesaurus – I have a special place in my heart for the thesaurus, not because it sounds like a verbose dinosaur, but because it is so incredibly useful to anyone who wants to make their writing as beautiful and lyrical as possible. A thesaurus is a treasure trove of synonyms and antonyms that will give your child just the right word he or she is looking for. Here are some websites that will help your children navigate their own thesaurus:
Teaching Kids to Use a Thesaurus
Using a Thesaurus Worksheet (make your own based on this idea!)