Enriching your child's vocabulary

``Wait, Jeannie! First we should read the destructions!'' ``Mom, I can't consecrate with all this noise.''

Children love the sound, the intrigue, the discovery of new words, and they're eager to put those words to use. But often, as in the examples above, children use legitimate words in the wrong context. At such times, the word's definition needs additional explaining by parents, which in turn promotes better understanding on the part of the child.

Developing a child's vocabulary is something every parent automatically helps out with from the day the child is born. Enriching a child's vocabulary, however, takes more of a conscious effort.

Some of the suggestions below might help parents ``enrich'' their children's vocabularies, and even aid children in developing a lifetime love for words.

Take advantage of misused words. When children misuse words, tactfully point out the error. As an example, parents can differentiate between the words ``instruction'' and ``destruction,'' by giving the definition of both and using each word in the proper context. Concurrently, parents can make a mental note to use those two words whenever appropriate in the near future.

Encourage inquiries. The opportune time for children to learn is when they are curious and they ask questions about something. Just recently, our kindergartner asked about the word ``stagnant'' while I was busy preparing dinner. It was tempting to tell him ``not now,'' but I realized he might have little interest in the word later. I paused and we both benefited from a brief conversation about the word ``stagnant'' and its particular use in relation to water.

Use a ``spacious'' vocabulary. Sometimes parents are hesitant to use words that children might not comprehend, yet it's difficult for children to enrich their vocabularies when adults intentionally use a limited, basic selection of words. Instead of using the word ``big,'' children are delightfully surprised when we describe something as being large, huge, gigantic, enormous, immense, massive, or vast, when those words are equally applicable.

Use dictionaries. There are many inexpensive children's dictionaries available today. In our home, we have several on hand to use for easy reference, or simply to browse through as an occasional alternative to a bedtime story. We've also discovered as parents that there is nothing wrong in admitting we're uncertain ourselves on the meaning of a word and then referring to a dictionary for clarification.

Point out unfamiliar words in text. When reading with children, we often assume they understand the vocabulary. Our three-year-old was captivated by a recent story, but he had no idea what the word ``disguise'' meant -- a word in the tale that was used repeatedly. A brief discussion helped him gain a better understanding of the word and the story.

Incorporate word origins. If at all possible, look for and include word orgins when giving definitions. While discussing the word ``equator,'' one father found it helpful to show his children a globe and then pointed out that the ``equator'' was ``equal'' distance from the poles. Of course, this led to a discussion of the hemispheres: ``hemi'' meaning half, ``sphere'' meaning round.

Often the explanation of one word can lead to interesting, informative discussions, and you'll most likely also discover that enriching a child's vocabulary can be an exciting parent-and-child process.

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