While it may sound obvious that knowing many words help with better comprehension, the fact that it has direct correlation with the child's willingness to read is often ignored.
Children whose need to expand their vocabulary is high are often the ones who are reluctant to read and tend to read less.
If that's the case, the most obvious thing to do seems to be make them learn new words everyday. That in all probability would involve mugging up meanings of given set of words every day. That however, is the least sustainable and ineffective practice that you can adopt in your child's reading journey. Learning new words is not just about what they mean but also in terms of how they need to be decoded to be read and of how they can be used in a variety of contexts.
Why is simply learning the meanings for a list of words ineffective in expanding your child's vocabulary?
Consider the following definitions of a very common word.
"A surface, typically of glass coated with a metal amalgam, which reflects a clear image."
Imagine learning the meaning of 'mirror' this way. The first definition is the first search result in Google. The second is from Cambridge dictionary Compare this approach to learning the meaning of mirror to the following way:
"There is a mirror above the washbasin"
"You can see a reflection of yourself when you look into a mirror."
The above approach paves the way for asking questions. For instance in the first line, the question would be, "what is usually above a washbasin? oh that is called a mirror." Clearly, it is far easier to understand from these instances what a mirror means rather than the textbook definition of a mirror that involves complex words such as "metal-covered back"
Learning new words in a given context in a story book or a picture or an illustration makes it a lot easier to remember the meaning and also use it correctly.
There is a reason why very young children's books are filled with colourful pictures. Obviously to catch and retain their attention. Furthermore, it makes it a lot easier to learn new words. As they grow older, books begin to have sentences and eventually move on to more text and smaller number of pictures to almost none. The reasoning is that the older the child, higher the vocabulary and hence the ability to comprehend new words based on the context. Also, the possibility of a dictionary being picked up for looking up a meaning to be able to understand something that seems critical to the story. A child who does not follow this trajectory is simply not going to be a life long reader. Every one of those stages are crucial and tend to be long. Access to a variety of books is the key, not just any book.
The trick is simple. The more you read, the more words you learn
Children who do not read much, tend to have poor vocabulary which hampers with their reading comprehension abilities as they grow older, which in turn not only makes them reluctant to read but also hampers their confidence. Especially so, when their peers are able to deduce the meaning far more easily than themselves.
Find the right type of book
There is always a tendency to choose Harry Potter as the ideal book to read to improve vocabulary. Perhaps it is peer pressure that makes parents desire that their children also read Harry Potter. A child who does not read, who does not like fantasy in all probability will hate this book and not pick it up at all, setting a vicious circle in motion.
First of all, to be able to read and enjoy a fantastic book like Harry Potter, the child needs to be comfortable reading long texts filled with a variety of words. Imagine what would be like to read a text that is filled with unfamiliar words. Would you pick it up and read with interest?
Second of all, a great starting point would be to enable your child to experiment with books. It is ok to dismiss a book saying it is boring! Not every book can be liked every reader. But, do provide the room for discussions about what did not appeal to your child in the book. You will be surprised how much you can learn about their reading interests, which will be extremely useful information in taking them forward in their reading journeys.
Sometimes, simply reading a book that they don't understand, with them, can help them immensely. Encouraging them to decipher as much a possible from the context, the illustrations and gently guiding them through the book, helps boost their confidence that they can understand if they put their minds on to it. Side benefit, the realisation that giving up is easy and is hardly satisfying. However, when one puts in the effort and one becomes successful, the result is sweet isn't it?
It is ok to dismiss a book saying it is boring! Not every book can be liked every reader. But, do provide the room for discussions about what did not appeal to your child in the book. You will be surprised how much you can learn about their reading interests, which will be extremely useful information in taking them forward in their reading journeys.
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