Add a Little Vocab to the Dinner Menu

Kids need to read, and they need to read real books- not just the fleeting teenage craze. It seems to me that schools are advocating these low-grade literary choices. My son’s school gives no direction towards appropriate and engaging books, merely encouraging the kids to read something. So, he constantly picks spy books with absolutely no challenging vocabulary, no inferential reasoning and no character development.

These books do nothing to enhance his vocabulary. Children need to see words in context, to understand their complexities, to stretch themselves and play with new vocabulary. In short, they need to learn how to own a word. I certainly can’t change a school district, but there are steps parents can take to ensure that language skills develop proficiently. Here are some suggestions of fun and easy ways to introduce vocabulary:

Vocab for Dinner: Pick ten words. Ask everyone at the dinner table to craft their conversation around using these words. Use these ten for a whole week to reinforce the meaning in multiple contexts; next week, pick ten more!

Silly Sentences: Have a contest to see who can create the funniest sentence (or paragraph) using some rich vocabulary words (applying the words with the correct meaning). Maybe extra dessert for the winner?

Read with a Pencil: I always buy my children the book they are reading in school, particularly if it’s a novel or play, so they can mark it up. This is an invaluable way to learn words, put in reminders about characters, and push kids to really engage in their reading. It’s well worth the investment.

Family News Weekly: Choose an op-ed article to discuss with the family. The article should have subtext, a main idea and some strong vocabulary words. Highlight the vocabulary words before discussing. Have a group conversation about the piece and see if the child can understand the harder words from the context.

Story Time: Read as a family a more difficult book that your child might not be able to fully understand on his/her own. We just read The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Each family member reads a page out loud and I make sure we all have our own copy to mark up. Every time we come to a great vocabulary word my children try to define it in context. Then, we circle the word in the book. Every time we pick up the book to begin a new chapter I quickly review some of the words circled previously. Short stories are also great to read as a family. Read in one sitting and make for great family discussions.

Let words themselves be the centerpiece at the dinner table. Your kids will learn, you’ll have fun talking about books as a family and you’ll help your children strengthen some important skills.