Build Your Child's Vocabulary

You can buildyour child's vocabulary increase without using boring workbooks or flashcards. Learn how to utilize classic literature to increase vocabulary.

An average American three-year-old has mastered about 1,000 words. By the time he reaches adulthood, this average American will have known between 30,000 and 60,000 words. And yet, the English language contains more than 700,000 words. Just think what we're missing! How can you help your child develop a better-than-average vocabulary without forcing her to spend hours with vocabulary workbooks on the weekends? You can introduce her to classic literature.

Classic literature is not only rich in vocabulary, it's also generally rich in characterization and plot, so your child will be entertained as she learns. British children's literature generally has a richer vocabulary than American children's literature, so you might want to steer your children to a few good British authors.

Here's a list of vocabulary-rich children's and teen's literature to get you started:



The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

221 Baker Street by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevinson

Penrod by Booth Tarkington

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

If your child just reads quality, classic literature such as this, he will naturally gain a richer vocabulary. But there are simple things you can do to increase that vocabulary even more.

Encourage your child to use the context around an unknown word to figure it out. Go through a couple of examples with your child. Tell him that if he still can't figure out the word to look it up in a dictionary. Keep a small paperback dictionary where your child usually reads so he doesn't have to hunt for it. If there's any hunting involved, he won't look it up because he won't want to stay away from the plot and characters that long.

Encourage your child to use those new words. It can become a fun game. Tell your children to try to use a new word during dinner each day or whenever your family talks the most. They'll begin searching for new, possibly outlandish (but hopefully not vulgar) words to introduce to the family at dinnertime.

Use new vocabulary words yourself. If your children realize that you as an adult are still learning new vocabulary words and that you enjoy it (if you don't enjoy it, maybe you should read some classics yourself), then they'll be more apt to play by your vocabulary words. Let them see you looking new words up in the dictionary as you come across them in your own reading.

The benefits of a broad vocabulary are numerous. Most immediately, your children will do much better on standardized tests, especially the SAT, which is very "vocabulary heavy." In college, they'll write better and understand more of their lectures. Beyond school, though, they'll have a richer understanding of the world around them and a better arsenal of words for expressing themselves.

So drop by the bookstore or library and pick up some of these fantastic books. You could start by reading the same books as your children, and soon they'll have the vocabulary to browse the "grown-up" section of the library.

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