Vocabulary development or, to ‘know the meaning of a wide variety of words and the structure of written language’ (Five from Five.org.au) is one of the 5 Keys to Reading. When we compare the types of words in say, Eric Hill’s ‘Spot’ books compared to an information text on how free-range chickens are looked after on a farm to lay our fresh, organic eggs, then we would be correct to say the words and ideas, would be very different.
Kids are always building their word banks and it’s up to us to use language with them about a variety of different topics as well as read a variety of books to them especially if their interests are sparked. Some kids might like to learn about food, superheros and dinosaurs, while others like stories about pixies or ‘The Olden Days’.
There are some who say that boys only like non-fiction; books on cars, surfing, world records, sport, computer games etc. That’s like saying ‘only girls like ice-cream.’ While it’s true that many people steer their boys and girls to different areas (I beg to wonder why) sometimes it appears to be a cultural thing. Here’s food for thought; by limiting our kids’ choices in this way (not including themes of violence and adult themes) are we deciding what their interests will be and are we being fair to them?
The world is an amazing place and we are responsible for providing our kids with a broad education. Who knows how things will pan out for our kids in the future. They might chase a dream and grow to be an Antarctic researcher, a nurse, a politician, or, they might be unemployed for a while, they might then retrain and become a wildlife photographer, a film director or a space engineer. They might reinvent themselves many times over.
Discussing learning while experiencing new things together is another way of expanding a child’s vocabulary. When I taught a year 6 class in the 90s, I organised an incursion where a horse was brought in by a harness racing group, to visit us. I was surprised to learn that out of 60 students, only about a third said they had ever touched a real horse and of those kids, only two had ever sat on a horse! I also remember once, reading about a child who thought that chickens had four legs. When asked why they thought so, they explained that when their parents buy a chicken at the supermarket, there are four drumsticks in the pack. (I have seen this too but not often!) In this instance, their carers might need to think about going to a farm, hold a real chicken, listen to a farmer, read about how eggs are made etc…
As adults, we have the responsibility to expose kids to a broad range of experiences where technical vocabulary is learnt. So, to only read the works of classic fiction writers say, Eric Carle, The Brothers Grimm, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, we are probably inadvertently limiting vocabulary development and kids’ ability to connect ideas and understand their world on a wider scale.
Introducing non-fiction concepts to our kids to expand technical vocabulary:
- Go the library and ask your librarian for their newest and interesting non-fiction books. (Avoid the dusty, older and unappealing books.) The photos and diagrams in non-fiction books usually hook kids into reading them. Have you ever seen kids when they learn about dinosaurs? This is the level of engagement we should harness. Did you know that librarian collections staff are open to book suggestions? (Imagine the excitement when picking up a brand-new book on dinosaurs which was ordered in for your child because they asked for it to be purchased!)
- Go to major retail stores and peruse their book collections. Ask family and friends who are after gift ideas, to buy your child a non-fiction book to expand their private library. Everyone loves giving and receiving books
- Take the family to an open range zoo where you can all get up close to some amazing animals. Wildlife sanctuaries and zoos have special shows to educate and engage kids. The rich vocabulary is then taught in a meaningful context. Continue the research at home if your child still asks questions. Harness the enthusiasm
- Take kids to a 3D cinema and watch a documentary. Their heightened senses will help to engage and educate
- Visit the Shrine or ANZAC ceremonies to learn about Australian history
- Talk to your older family and community members and ask them to share their stories
Over time, your child’s vocabulary will develop. Have fun and follow your child’s interests while exposing them to other new concepts. You know your child best.
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