My brother recently e-mailed me a story about his six-year-old daughter:
Claire: Daddy, I really regret going on our trip to Canada and Niagara Falls.
Daddy: Claire, you’re too young to have regrets, but why do you regret it?
Claire: Because on Webkins, if I don’t work on my garden every day, it gets too many weeds and the plants die.
This story got me thinking about the magnificence of vocabulary.
I’ve always regretted that I don’t have a stronger vocabulary, even though I have always loved words. I distinctly remember learning the word ominous in fourth grade and then later that very same night both reading it in the newspaper and hearing my dad use it at the dinner table. It felt like someone had given me a secret key. This word was everywhere!
I became fascinated with learning new words. As a freshman, I had a crush on a senior, and I would type notes to him during my typing class. I didn’t have much to say to him, so I would look up words in the dictionary and put their definitions in the note. (Let’s just say, if it isn’t obvious, it would be many years before I had my first boyfriend.)
Parents and adults often underestimate how much a child is learning when words are spoken often and in context. One of my favorite words to use when I work with small children is the word imperative. “It is imperative that you follow these directions; otherwise, the game won’t work.” My friend Sarah told me a story about her husband tickling her daughter and the three-year-old saying, “Mommy, I need you to intervene on my behalf!”
They get it. Children are brilliant, spongy creatures.
They’re constantly listening and learning and trying to make sense of the world. Correctly using words in context is an excellent and natural teaching tool.
Notice I said correctly. My friend Mary, another aspiring wordsmith, kept using the word impale in conversation. She believed the definition to be related to nausea until one day someone said, “Impale means to pierce someone, like knights with swords and lances and that kind of thing.” (We won’t blame her parents for that.)
Encouraging a rich vocabulary allows for a more satisfying reading experience for children.
Sometimes children will get the gist of what’s being written but reading is so much more entertaining and meaningful if they have a reference point for all of the words. So start using those challenging words with your children. Don’t feel like you have to resort to yum yum. Go ahead and use the word delectable. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll pick it up and start using it themselves.
Besides, your child just might come across a sentence one day that reads, “I regret to inform you of this ominous news, but it is imperative that you act quickly: Your husband has impaled himself on a skewer from the delectable shish-ka-bobs he was grilling and now needs you to intervene on his behalf.”
Sure, it isn’t likely, but you never know. So use your words!