Word Power!

5 Easy Ways to Boost Your Child’s Vocabulary

“Use your words.” It’s a phrase many a weary parent has uttered while imploring a temperamental toddler to stop acting out and speak. And it’s a phrase parents and teachers should keep reiterating as children grow. Emphasizing the power of words, and encouraging kids to cultivate a rich garden full of them, will help them develop communications skills they can draw on for years to come. Here are five ways to help your child build a robust vocabulary that sticks.

Read together. Emerging readers should explore books on their own, but should also read regularly with a grownup. “My son is 10 now, but we’ve always read at night together and still do,” said CTY Online Programs reading and grammar instructor Stephanie Denny. Reading aloud helps children practice pronunciation and gain confidence in their own voice, while giving adults the chance to define unfamiliar words, Denny said.

Play games. Scrabble, Taboo, Balderdash, and Apples to Apples introduce children to useful words and their meanings — all under the guise of family fun. Look for “junior” versions of these board games for little learners. Independently, kids can flex their lexicographical muscles with crossword puzzles, Bananagrams, or one of these age-specific vocabulary-building apps.

Look it up. Keep a dictionary handy, so when an enchanting new word like “inglenook” pops up, your kid can take a minute to learn what it means. Picture dictionaries are especially helpful for younger readers. A thesaurus will inspire kids of all ages to add linguistic flair to writing assignments, while “Word of the Day” websites and apps like those from Merriam-Webster and the New York Times can give the whole family a steady stream of new words to try.

Pair it with a picture. Books and flashcards that couple text with pictures can make words more memorable for little ones. Visit your library for oodles of books that do this delightfully well, like “Big Words for Little People” by Jaime Lee Curtis and “L Is for Lollygag: Quirky Words for a Clever Tongue” by the Chronicle Books staff. This list suggests even more piquant picture books to inspire logophilia in kids of all ages.

Encourage specificity. Good words make good stories. “You can make the most boring story exciting by the words that you use — and you can make the most exciting story boring by the words that you use,” said Denny. She recalled one student who penned a true tale of getting chased by a dog that managed to fall flat due to a dearth of descriptive words. Reinforce the vocabulary words your child is learning in school by slipping them into casual conversations. Keep up the subtle prompting and before you know it, instead of badgering your child to “Use your words,” you’ll be ballyhooing their splendiferous exposition.

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