| Family fun | Learn about the issues | Preschool | Kindergarten

Vocabulary helps reading readiness

Most of us hope our children will enter kindergarten ready to learn to read. With schools placing increased emphasis upon testing and academic proficiency, sharpening those literacy skills has become more important than ever.

That's why educators and researchers are looking for ways to jump-start reading readiness. These days, the focus is on early and ample vocabulary exposure.

"It is much easier for children to learn to read if they have heard the words before," says Billie Young, manager of child development programs for the City of Seattle.

Language children hear is "receptive;" language children speak is "expressive," she explains. "The more parents talk to kids, the more words they will have in their receptive ability."

When should parents begin infusing their children with a rich vocabulary? From day one, says Bridgett Chandler, vice president and chief programs officer at Talaris Research Institute in Seattle. "Kids absorb language long before they speak," she says.

Children make "maps" and patterns of sounds they hear over and over, says Chandler. "By the time they're a year old, if they don't hear certain sounds, they won't be able to recognize them later."

Parents can facilitate the language process in their infant's early months by holding their baby close, exaggerating sounds, slowing their language down and pitching their voices higher, Chandler notes. "In every culture, that's the way adults change their speech for a very young child."

According to the Puget Sound Early Literary Outreach Project, (http://earlyliteracy. psesd.org) infants who demonstrate and master the building blocks of speech at 6 months develop more complex language skills by ages 2 and 3, and improve their reading abilities at 4 and 5.

"Research has demonstrated that the size of a child's vocabulary upon entering school has a direct impact on his long term success as a student," says Mary Seaton, project manager for the Outreach Project.

In fact, vocabulary and oral language is a better predictor of reading success than IQ, according to Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, a speech and language pathologist who is special programs director for the Bremerton School District. "It is all built on background knowledge," she says.

Studies show that children from low socioeconomic environments begin kindergarten knowing far fewer words than children from middle class backgrounds, says Sullivan-Dudzic. "In a low-income home, the utterances are shorter, less frequent, with fewer adjectives and descriptive words--and there is less higher level questioning," she says. "Many of those parents are stressed out about paying the rent. How will they read to their child?"

Building vocabulary

Parents can help their children build strong vocabularies by sharing their own excitement about words. Forget the flash cards, says Young. "Play word games and use rhyme and alliteration. If a child asks what something means, explain it--or look it up together."

And read, read, read. But don't just recite words on a page, experts advise. Instead, read interactively. "Ask the child questions, wait, and respond by adding a little more information," says Sullivan-Dudzic. "Compare and contrast what's in the book. Say, 'This is a race car and that's a tractor. How are they different?'"

With this reading technique--educators call it "dialogic reading"--the adult becomes the questioner and the audience for the child. Rather than simply listening, the child becomes actively involved in the process.

"Let your child have as much control as possible," says Mark Sabol, coordinator for Even Start, a federally funded family literacy program. "Let him turn the page or go back to another page. Have conversations about what you're reading."

Those conversations are called the PEER sequence, as in Prompting the child ("what do you see?"); Evaluating the response ("that's right, it's a cow"); Expanding upon what the child says ("and a cow lives on a farm and says moo"); and Repeating the prompt to make sure the child has learned the information.

Make those reading and rhyming sessions fun, educators advise. Be careful not to pressure or overwhelm your child. "The single most important role adults can play in the future success of the children in their life is in helping to make talking and reading together a joyful experience," says Seaton.™

Help your child increase his or her vocabulary.

From the Talaris Research Institute Web site, www.talaris.org

  • Talk to your child often. Point out the cats, balls, and cookies in her life. Talk about what you're doing throughout the day. Follow her lead and describe the things she points to. Even if she doesn't answer right away, she's still listening and learning.
  • As children learn new words, they may not get them quite "right" at first. Don't feel like you need to correct them right away. Help them.
  • Help build a child's vocabulary by adding details to the objects and events of the day. For example, if the child says "ball" you could add, "Yes, that's right, it's a ball. It's a red ball that bounces." Don't be afraid to use a rich vocabulary when you talk about things.
  • Tired of talking? Try reading. While exposing your baby to language outside your own day-to-day vocabulary doesn't guarantee she'll learn new words, it may help. And it can be a fun way to be close to your child.
  • Remember that children recognize and understand many more words than they can say.
  • Don't be afraid to use "parentese," that singsong, higher pitched way of talking to young children.

Linda Morgan writes frequently on education issues for ParentMap.

There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment

Read Next