The ability to recognize the meaning of words, and to be able to analyze them effectively, is an important part of being a good reader. As children become more sophisticated readers, they begin to recognize that words are built with predictable spelling patterns. The early years in school are a time of tremendous brain development, particularly in the areas that control how we speak to others and how we interpret what they say to us. This is the reason that you have seen such tremendous growth in vocabulary in first and second grade, which will continue in third.
What Third Graders Should Know
The development of your child’s vocabulary plays an important role in her ability to progress in reading. By now, your child is learning to recognize synonyms, antonyms, and homophones and to understand what each word means and how it relates to a sentence. Your child also should be able to identify the meaning of words in context and to understand the basics of analogies.
What You and Your Child Can Do
There is a great deal you can do at home to boost your child’s acquisition of words, both through the language you use and in fun games you play together. But try not to make vocabulary development drudgery—it doesn’t have to be! Try to create an atmosphere that fosters exploration. Don’t just hand your third grader a worksheet-instead, invite her to join you in the enjoyment of words.
Read and Read Some More!
Your third grader is not too old to read to. If you want your child to have an effective vocabulary, the best way to do that is to continue to read to her. Read every day, and let her read aloud to you as well. Choose books on a wide range of subjects, and let your child choose her own. Be alert for her special hobbies or interests, and then provide books on that topic. You don’t have to buy books; you can borrow as many as your child can read from the local library.
Play Commercial Games.
There are many commercial games that are good for boosting vocabulary. Games such as Concentration or Password are old favorites and can help boost vocabulary. Scrabble (or Scrabble Junior) is another great choice.
Take a Trip.
You don’t have to journey to Paris to find interesting places to take your third grader. On regular outings—to a museum, planetarium, or zoo—encourage her to read the materials available. Help her expand her interests because a curious child with lots of stimulation will almost automatically have a larger vocabulary. If your child is interested in the ocean, take her to a nearby aquarium. If she’s interested in trains, take her to the local station. If she likes animals, join the local zoo society or arrange to observe a veterinarian at work. Perhaps she could help out at a local kennel or stable. While it may not seem that these trips involve reading, what you’re doing is expanding her experience and triggering her interest, all of which will eventually improve her vocabulary.
Talk to Your Child.
Reading isn’t the only way to boost vocabulary, conversation will also do the trick. In fact, the more varied and complex the language she hears, the better her vocabulary will be. It’s a fact: Children with a strong vocabulary tend to have parents with a strong vocabulary. Don’t despair if your own vocabulary isn’t the best. If her environment is stimulating, your child’s vocabulary will improve.
Play Stump the Family.
Each day, assign a member of your family to look up the meaning of one new word, and then use the word to try to stump the family at dinner. On her day, help your third grader look through a dictionary to find an unusual word. See if anyone can guess what the word means.
Build a Scaffold.
One way parents can boost a child’s word usage is to use a verbal scaffold— that is, use a complex word and then define it in simpler terms right after. For example, Sara’s mother says: “Oh, the honey is crystallizing. It’s forming little hard bits that won’t melt.” Children with the best vocabularies tend to have parents who automatically “scaffold” their sentences. E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web) is one writer known for scaffolding well.
Of course, it’s also fine if you simply define words outright: “Your grandfather was ambidextrous. That means he could use his right hand just as well as he could use his left.” Don’t automatically use the simplest words to talk to your child. Speak to her as if she were older; you might be surprised at how fast her vocabulary improves.
This popular family game requires just a pencil and a scrap of paper, and it’s a great diversion during endless waits in the doctor’s office or a restaurant. When it’s your turn to give a word, don’t use the simplest word you can think of. Offer a more challenging choice, and explain the word once the child has guessed all the letters. Look It Up!
You’re never too old to learn new words. Let your third grader see you looking up words whose meaning you’re not sure about. It’s a rare adult who doesn’t occasionally come across a word she doesn’t know. When you are stumped by a new word, mention to your child that you don’t know the meaning of the word: “This article mentions the aorta. You know, I’ve never really understood where in the heart the aorta is. I’m going to look it up in the dictionary.”
Encourage your child to do the same thing when she meets a new word.
Commercial games like Balderdash and Balderdash Jr. are fun games that will build and enrich vocabulary. Start a family game night and introduce this game.
Play Word Scramble.
This ever-popular party game can be lots of fun for children to play, especially if you get several children together and offer a prize for the most words. In word scramble, choose one larger word (such as Halloween), and have children find as many smaller words as they can using the same letters as are in the larger word. Set a time limit.
Play Internet Wordfind.
If your child seems reluctant to use a dictionary, try the Internet. Dictionary skills are important, but your aim at this age is to get your child used to looking up words she doesn’t know. Finding the meaning of a word using the “search” key isn’t practicing dictionary skills, but it is a way for you to capture her interest in learning new words.
Use Word-a-Day Calendars.
Try a junior version of the word-a-day calendars. It works!