Vocabulary Development for Comprehension
Vocabulary is knowing the meaning of words including names of things, feelings, concepts and ideas. The larger a child’s vocabulary (understanding what words mean not just being able to say them) the easier it is for them to understand what they are reading.
The more you talk and share words and their meaning with your child the greater their vocabulary will become.
- Introducing and playing sorting games helps your child to build a mental filing cabinet system of categories, this helps them to remember and learn the meaning of words. Start by introducing simple categories of everyday items like food or clothes as their vocabulary increases categories such as colour, size and texture become more appropriate.
- As babies handle objects and toys describe how they feel, what they look like or the sound they make
- When you are playing with your child add in new words and descriptions to the words as well as descriptions or expand on words they use in play. For example, if you are playing cars with your child you may comment on the size difference or colours between the cars.
- Remember children learn new words best when they are learned in context, that is, in a natural setting.
- If they are trying to say a word, let them finish and then say it back to them clearly and correctly. Do not make them repeat it back to you, they may choose to do so but make it their choice.
- When drawing or painting with your child or they are sharing their pictures with you talk about the shapes, colours types of lines (straight line or curves line), what you like best about the picture, and the objects you can see.
Through Songs and Nursery Rhymes
- Listening of nursery rhymes and children’s song is a good way of helping your child make the distinction between the music and words (language used) in them. It is a good idea to practise this skill when there are no other noise distractions.
- Try playing some action songs and rhymes to help your child learn the actions for the rhyme, then let them have a go on their own. Watch them to see if they can do some of the actions at the right time in the song, to see if they are listening for the right cue words. If they are struggling, explain they have to wait for certain words and show them what to do and when to do it.
- Nursery and silly rhymes are great ways to introduce your child to rhyming sounds and increase sound play in words.
- Singing often slows down our pronunciation of words, helping your child to pick out unusual or rhyming sound patterns. As with reading aloud it can introduce a wider vocabulary for your child.
- Finger rhymes and action songs encourage your child to interact with words, the sounds within them and the rhythms they create. Finger rhymes such as ‘Round and Round the Garden’, ‘Pat-a-cake’ and ‘Incy Wincey Spider’. ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ is a lovely whole body movement song that encourages a rhythmic whole body motion, which babies and toddler enjoy (as well as the adults).
- Speak in ‘parentese’ until a child is about 9 months old as they will listen to you longer and hear more words
- Talk about feeling and situations throughout the day.
- When your child points at something tell them the name of the object, for example if they point at an apple, say “Apple”.
- Explain words or give synonyms
- Avoid replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones (explain the meaning). Remember to try to use the new word in context regularly as repetition of the word will help your child to remember it and reinforce the meaning of the word.
- Repeat and expand on what your child says, so if they say “Dog!” you may say “A big dog!” This also helps them to develop an understanding of sentence structure.
Through Book Sharing
What books to choose?
- Books with word not used in everyday conversation.
- Non-fiction books (informational, instructional, true stories) -as they use different words to friction (story) books.
- Any book really. The language of books in much richer and varied than that of everyday conversation.
Book Sharing Tips
- Sharing and talking about the books you are reading helps to build word knowledge, as you point to the pictures, picking out different objects.
- Reading out aloud helps to introduce your child to words that they may not experience in their everyday talk. This helps to expose them to new vocabulary and the sounds to be found in those words.
- Reading aloud poems and story books with strong rhyme elements, like those found in Dr.Seuss books, helps introduce the new words and rhyming sounds in words.
- Try exaggerating the rhyming words to help highlight the sound patterns, making it easier for your child to tune into them.
- Explain unfamiliar words; don’t replace it with a familiar one.
- When a word has more than one meaning. Talk about the different meanings.
- Add descriptive words or more information than in the book.
- Encourage your child to talk about the pictures. Add information and ideas to what they have said.
- Use words to describe how characters in the book might have felt at a point in the story.
- Use words to describe ideas in the story even if they are not used in the book.
- Remember children learn new words and their meaning through repetition, so you will need to be patient as you re-read the same story over and over again or answering the same questions over and over again.
Phonological Awareness Games and Book Sharing Ideas
Phonological awareness relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).
Our phonological awareness develops over time and the depth of that awareness is based on the range of experiences we have. Research suggests that our phonological awareness begins in the womb at about 24 weeks and is continually built upon throughout our lives. We tend to think of children going through ten distinct phonological stages; the later stages being related to phonics.
Children are taught to read in schools through phonics; the association between sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes).
Phonics reading is the process of firstly segmenting the written word into letters, or letter combinations, then associating known sounds to those letters and finally blending the sounds together to form words (decoding). If a child is weak in any of the phonological awareness stages before those relating to phonics then they will struggle with learning to read.
Because of the nature of how we develop our phonological awareness games and activities cannot easily be split into categories. Playing, drawing, writing, singing and book sharing all require you to talk with your child highlighting sounds, words and rhythms of language.
Here are some games and activities to help you:
- Singing and sharing nursery rhymes is a great way to help children hear sounds in words because the words are drawn out and the sounds highlighted or exaggerated.
- Clapping, bouncing or tapping to songs and rhymes helps to highlight the syllables of the words. A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.
- Point out the sounds you hear such as animal or environmental noises and explain what is making that noise.
- Play games or sing songs where you and your child can make noises such as animal sounds (Old MacDonald had a farm) or vehicle noises (The Wheels on the Bus).
- Draw animal or other every day objects that have a distinct sound, name them and make the sound they produce.
What books should you choose?
- Books with sounds of animals and other things
- Nursery Rhymes
- Book formatted from songs
- Books with rhyme and alliteration
- Poetry books
- Any book really, remember your local library can help you to chose a good range of books to share with your child if you are not sure.
Book Sharing Tips
- Don’t be shy, make animal and object noises. If you are self-conscious about it your child will pick up on this. No one thinks twice about an adult making what may appear to be strange noise if they are sharing them with a child (its when you forget they are not with you and you do it that they tend to look at a you a bit funny).
- Talk about whether a book rhymes or not. Point out the rhyming words, make up other rhyming words for any of the words in the book. Remember they do not have to be real words they can be silly funny words that pick up the rhyming sounds in the original word.
- It is important to remember for some children saying a word that rhymes with one you have given can be very difficult if not impossible. So, don’t stress them out with this, it is often easier for them to recognise a rhyme than to make one. You could ask them to tell you if two words you give rhyme or not. If they find this easy try giving them three words with only two that rhyme and ask them to identify the rhyming words.
- After sharing the book pick out words that you can clap out the syllables for. You could make this into a jumping or hopping game instead. With older children ask then to tell you how many syllables the word has and then to check their answer by counting the number of claps or jumps they make.
- Play an ‘I Spy’ game using the pictures in the book looking for rhyming words for instance by giving clues such as; “It is red and rhymes with the word sock.” The answer is clock.
How to Develop a Child’s Interest in Books and Reading
Research suggests that children who enjoy books are more likely to want to learn to read and will keep trying even when they find it hard. Therefore, it is important to keep their interaction around books a positive one.
Books come in all shapes and sizes and are made from various materials.
- Have a few bath books, even if most of the time your baby or toddler just chews on them they will be handling a book, possibly turning the pages. Giving you the opportunity to talk about the pictures with them.
- Try to have a range of cloth, hard books and suitable picture books around the house and in your child’s play area so they can pick them up at any time. This way they can explore them for themselves (even if it is to give them a quick chew on) not always as an adult sharing activity.
Through Drawing & Writing
Drawing and making your own simple story book can be a great way of getting your child interested in books and reading. Children love to hear stories about them. Simple homemade books about them can be a great way of introducing children to books and reading. This can be a very effective approach to encourage reluctant readers.
- Draw simple pictures with, or for your child, and talk through what you are drawing for example; a picture of house with matchstick people. The pictures could be telling the events of the day for example going to the park or walking the dog.
- If drawing is not your thing (like me) use fuzzy felt instead to make a picture to share the story of their day.
Through Songs and Nursery Rhymes
Children’s songs and nursery rhymes cover a wide range of concepts from going through every day sequences such as in nursery rhyme ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush’ which uses the phrase ‘This is the way we…’ to order the event of getting up in the morning. Some introduce concept such as size, numbers, colours and shapes. While others tell stories for example ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ or ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury.
Sharing books that enable you and your child to sing along (retell) their favourite songs and nursery rhymes means that the child knows what to expect and that they are going to have fun and enjoy the experience. Over time you will then be able to introduce books with new songs and nursery rhymes, building on your child’s positive experience of other book sharing sessions with you. Remember you may have to revert back to the old favourite time and time again but stick with it.
Through Book Sharing
What books should you choose?
- Pick children’s books you enjoy
- Pick books your child enjoys
- Give your child time to choose and look at books (your local library is a great place for this).
- Follow your child’s interests
- Use ‘true’ books and stories (not those specifically written for developing phonics knowledge or rigidly structured reading scheme books for teaching and learning to read, these will come from school and serve a different purpose).
Book Sharing Tips
- Remember that a child’s age personality, mood and stage of development will affect how they interact with the book.
- Keep the interaction around the book positive and fun, if you are not enjoying it your child will pick up on this.
- Keep your child involved, remember you do not have to read the book word for word, it is the positive sharing experience that is important.
- If your child does not seem interested in reading or sharing books, start slowly by sharing /reading one or two pages at a time. Keep the interaction positive and over time their interest will grow.
- If your child is showing no interest then try again another time.
- When reading a book with your child that you really like then tell them that you like the book or story. Your child may not agree with you and insist on their favourite book which after reading for the 500th time you may be bored with but keep with it, there will be another favourite book!
- Try to share books throughout the day not just at nap and bed times. I found having a couple of books in my bag really useful as I could then share a book with one of my girl’s while the other was swimming or with them both while waiting for the bus or sharing tea and cake in a café.
- Read with your child every day. There are some days where this just seems impossible to manage. Remember one minute is better than no minutes and it does not have to be a book you are reading, there are lots of environment reading matter you could use such as painting/pictures, posters, advertisement, road signs and maps.
The importance of reading to, and with, your child can’t be overemphasized. The more your child gets exposed to words and enjoys the reading experience the quicker they will learn to read for themselves.
From next week, we will be starting a six-week series on ‘Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey’. Each week we will look at a different reading skill element, giving example games and activities you can use to support and develop your child through:
- Book Sharing
- Talk & Song
‘Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey’ Series:
- Week 1. How to develop a child’s interest in books and reading.
- Week 2. Phonological awareness skills required for reading.
- Week 3. Vocabulary development for comprehension.
- Week 4. Print awareness to develop understanding of reading conventions.
- Week 5. Narrative skills to support the understanding of different writing styles.
- Week 6. Letter knowledge