Ever struggled to teach vocabulary to your children?
One homeschool mom recently wrote, “I want my kids to know big words and understand what they mean without bogging them down with a lot more schoolwork. What have you used that has really worked and what age did you start and finish?”
Of course, every child will learn vocabulary and language differently. But many experienced moms wrote back with helpful (even enjoyable!) strategies that worked for them in teaching this subject at home:
Use extensive vocabulary in everyday conversations.
It may sound obvious, but the “use-it-or-lose-it” mentality especially applies to language. If you’re daily speaking the type of vocabulary that you want your kids to learn, they’ll absorb it – as one homeschool mom described it – “through osmosis!”
“The best way to build a large vocabulary is to provide rich, beautiful language within real-life context,” she wrote. “It’s helpful for kids to hear their parents talk about current events at the table or discuss big ideas with others (theology, politics, ethics), sit in on sermons, and be underfoot when you extend hospitality to other adults. It’s also way more fun to develop this skill through the written word than test taking.”
Other moms also found this the best approach because it provided immediate context.
“The things [our children] did out of some vocab book at school didn’t stay with them because it had no context,” one homeschool mom wrote. “(They were not homeschooled.) We also encouraged our children to ask if they didn’t know a word and played games like scrabble, did crosswords, etc. Fun, real life ways to build vocab.”
Beyond read-alouds, many homeschoolers recommend audiobooks as another easy way to build vocabulary.
Make a point of reading “old” books.
When was the last time you cracked open a book that wasn’t written in the last 100 years? For aficionados of Charlotte Mason, C.S. Lewis and classical homeschooling, the answer should be extremely often!
For C.S. Lewis, a good rule of thumb was to read one old book in-between each new book … or, “if that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones” (via the C.S. Lewis Institute).
So long as you keep in mind that some words are obsolete or have different meanings today, it can be fairly entertaining as well as useful to give books from previous centuries to young minds.
A good personal example was reading The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter to a 2-year-old, and hearing her accurately use the word consequence in everyday life!
Use word journals for older children.
For older kids who like keeping lists and journals, try a journal focused exclusively on words.
ReadWriteThink has a great PDF resource on keeping a word journal, including concept wheels and other visual tools for remembering the words learned.
Make them familiar with a dictionary.
Both a paper dictionary and a digital dictionary should be close friends with your family!
One of the best ways to make dictionaries fun is to play the Balderdash game. You can buy Balderdash as a board game on Amazon, or you can be old-fashioned and just keep a stack of papers, pens and some system of tallying up points.
For the game to work, simply have each player pick a word in the dictionary where no one in the family knows its meaning. Each player will create a definition for that word, and the player who picked the word will submit the right definition. Players then get to vote on which definition they think is correct.
Players get one point for each made-up definition that gets a vote, and those players who picked the right definition also get one point.
This was a favorite childhood game of mine, as I can still remember one word that baffled all my family (mutchkin – go look it up!), as well as this made-up definition that we all fell in love with: “Yerbamate – the female yerba.”
Teach vocabulary with some spice: add synonyms!
Here’s another excellent vocabulary-building suggestion from a homeschool family: “We do a game sometimes, which is finding synonyms for words. Daddy instigates and always finds some cool new words.”
Introduce new words regularly.
If you want something a little more structured, one homeschool mom suggests introducing a new word every week during schooltime. Everyone can also take turns reviewing the meaning each morning. This helps get it solidified in their minds.
Explore some resources.
Some area homeschoolers have found these recommended curriculum and other resources helpful. As always, we recommend using your own discretion and research!
- English from the Roots Up: a book that focuses on Greek and Latin root words. For grades 2-12.
- Vocabulary Cartoons: a book that uses visual and rhyming mnemonics to aid in memorization as you teach vocabulary.
- Wordly Wise workbooks: vocabulary resources from the same company that provides such programs as Explode The Code, Primary Phonics, and S.P.I.R.E.
- Read Aloud Revival: One homeschooler writes, “If you’re not familiar with Read Aloud Revival, check it out! Sarah Mackenzie’s RAR podcasts provide great inspiration for the value of reading aloud to your kids. Her guests range from curriculum developers to social scientists, Ivy League-educated professors to a professional playwright and everything in between! On Facebook you can join a fledgling group called Read Aloud Resources for book recommendations.”
- Martha Speaks and Word Girl: Two PBS Kids programs designed to make word learning fun.
This blog post was originally published in May 2016. It has been updated for timeliness and detail.
Interested in more helpful homeschool tips? Sign up for our “Homeschool Hints” monthly email newsletter.