Do you remember those vocab tests you took in middle and high school? The ones where you memorized tons of words and regurgitated them in multiple choice format? Did you actually learn vocabulary that way? Yeah, me neither.
And why do you not remember any of those random vocab words? Because vocabulary is meaningless if not used in context.
Well, it turns out summer is a great way to practice vocabulary in context. Summer! Who knew?
That’s right. Every summer, the kids and I use a word jar to introduce new vocabulary.
The best way to boost vocabulary in children is through reading and conversation, and since we certainly have the reading element taken care of I created a snazzy-dazzling word jar to improve our conversational vocabulary. Parents, we all need to brush-up our vocabulary, too, right? After all, we lost a lot of brain cells during those sleepless nights.
Here’s how it works.
Every morning this summer, my son chooses a word from his vocabulary word jar. Then, throughout the day we have a good-sport contest to see who can use the word in context the most. It’s quite fun and we end up creating silly observations about our day.
Here are a few tips:
1. Keep it simple. Don’t start with SAT word lists! I filled our jar with words I found on these grade level lists based on his reading level, picking and choosing words I thought he might be unfamiliar with but which he could pick up easily.
2. Include some words with double meanings. A word like signal is both a noun and a verb. A word such as staple is a noun, verb and adjective and has a few completely different meanings.
3. Use words your child knows but may not regularly use. The above example of signal is perfect. My son knew the meaning of this word when he picked it from the jar, but I’d never actually hear him use it as a verb in conversation before. Now he uses it a lot!
4. Relax. Don’t make it a test. Some days we use the word a lot in conversation. Other days my son spends 10 minutes thinking up the craziest sentences he can and then doesn’t use the word again. That’s okay. It’s summer. It’s supposed to be fun. The real goal is simply to demonstrate the benefits and joys of having a large vocabulary, not to get your 7 year old using the word specious appropriately.
5. Use words from previous days. Truth be told, it is mostly up to me to reuse words from previous days in our conversation. I love that when I do, my son’s face shines with acknowledgment and understanding.
I admit, my favorite part of this activity is not even that my son is learning and retaining new words, it’s that we can have a lot of cheerful conversational moments at a time when he is displaying too much typical 7 year old petulance! It turns out the word jar is a great parenting tool!
Did you know wordless books are an excellent way to build your child’s vocabulary? Try using words from the summer word jar when you “read” wordless books! Here is a list of great wordless books, and here are the best tips for “reading” wordless books with your children. I offer a lot of tips I learned from my days as an actor!