Reading 101: A Guide for Parents

Vocabulary: Activities for Your Pre-K Child

Long before young children learn to read, they are hearing lots of words in everyday conversations and through read alouds. Building up a child's "word bank" from a very young age is great preparation for reading fluency and comprehension later on.

Overview

Talking to and reading with your pre-K child are two terrific ways to help them hear new words. Conversations and questions about interesting words are easy ways to get new words into everyday talk.

Use rich language in conversations with your child

Even very young children love to hear and learn new words! Help your child expand their word bank and knowledge of the world by using interesting and vivid words instead of simpler language in your everyday conversations. For example, instead of saying, "this pizza is good" you might say, "this pepperoni pizza tastes spicy."

Read with your child every day

Reading aloud exposes your child to lots of vivid language that is not found in books for beginning readers. When you come upon a new and interesting word, take the time to stop and ask your child what they think that word might mean in the context of the story. Then offer a kid-friendly definition of the word and connect it to a similar word and a shared experience.

Patience!

Word learning and vocabulary growth takes time and patience. Don't expect your child to learn a new word after one conversation or one read aloud. True word learning happens after being exposed to words several times. We all learn about words throughout our lifetime. You're getting your child off to a great start by developing an early interest in words.

Try these vocabulary activities at home!

Read aloud every day

Reading aloud to your child and having your child read books on their own is the best way to increase their vocabulary. Books provide words they won’t encounter in everyday conversations as the language of books is more complete and formal than talking. A great story also provides context and illustrations for learning a new word.

Bring in the nonfiction

Nonfiction and informational books (such as the picture books by Gail Gibbons and Sneed Collard) offer young children a treasure chest of new and interesting words about our world. If the book has a glossary, spend some time discussing the words with your child, and as you read aloud stop as often as needed to think about new words and how they connect to what your child already knows about. 

Grocery store vocabulary

Use the items on the grocery shelf to give your child practice finding something above their belly button, below their nose, on the bottom shelf, and between other items on a shelf. Opportunities to use superlatives, those little endings that help describe size, are all around the grocery store. Have your child find a big fruit, a bigger fruit and the biggest fruit in the produce section. What's the smallest item in the cart? The largest item?

Explore your world

Visits to a museum, the zoo, the botanical garden, historical sites, and even your neighborhood park are terrific opportunities to introduce your child to new words. Spend some time looking at the signage and identifying new words, then connecting them to what you see right there.

How can I help my four year old learn more words?

Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn shares three key ways to build your young child's vocabulary: lots of family talk, narrating your every day activities such as cooking or shopping, and reading to your child — while pointing out new words and then using them in your conversations. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)

Talk about new words during read alouds

Talking to and reading with your child are two terrific ways to help them hear and read new words. Conversations and questions about interesting words ("The book says, 'The boy tumbled down the hill,' and look at the picture! How do you think he went down the hill?") are easy ways to get new words into everyday talk.

Sharing a new word with your child doesn't have to take a long time: just a few minutes to talk about the word and then focus back on the book or conversation. Choose which words to talk about carefully — choosing every new word might make reading seem like a chore. The best words to explore with your child are ones that are common among adult speakers but are less common to see in the books your child might read.

When introducing new words to your young learner, keep the following four helpful hints in mind:

First, provide a simple, kid-friendly definition for the new word:

Enormous means that something is really, really big.

Second, provide a simple, kid-friendly example that makes sense within their daily life:

Remember that really big watermelon we got at the grocery store? That was an enormous watermelon!

Third, encourage your child to develop their own example:

What enormous thing can you think of? Can you think of something really big that you saw today? That's right! The bulldozer near the park was enormous! Those tires were huge.

Lastly, keep your new words active within your house.

Over the next few days and weeks, take advantage of opportunities to use each new vocabulary word in conversation. Kids often need to hear a new word in context ten times or more before they "know" that word.

Antonyms: another word

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Antonyms: Another Word. See all FCRR vocabulary activities here.

A powerful technique for growing your child’s vocabulary

This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte. Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper.

More vocabulary resources

Vocabulary apps

Reviews provided by Common Sense Media.

"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. " — Neil Gaiman