We can most likely agree that there is no harder job in the world than being a parent. There is no playbook anyone hands you to study from. You can’t Google how to do it. There are no tests you can take. What you can do, however, is take heart and realize that there are a lot of ways that you can help your child succeed in school, even as they enter those difficult, and sometimes turbulent, teenage years. In the area of vocabulary acquisition, which is connected to every subject they study in school, and by extension, reading, you can truly make a difference and be a positive role model through some very simple, yet meaningful actions outside of the classroom.
In my last blog entry, I listed a seminal study by Hart& Risely (1995), in which children as young as 6 months old were studied over a span of two years. The children who were exposed to the richest language over those first few years of life did better on later reading achievement (Pressly, 2006).
That’s all well and good, you may ask, but my child is in high school now—a (gulp), teenager. How can I possibly affect any real change now? Isn’t it the job of schools to teach my child to learn vocabulary and develop reading comprehension?
Well yes, and no. It is my job, and our job as educators and school systems, to provide your child with the highest quality education possible. I take my job very seriously, and devote countless hours to designing lessons that will allow your child to grow as a student, and hopefully as a person. I understand that each of my students is an individual, and I make sure that I am reaching each student where they are, setting the bar high, and readjusting when necessary.
However, there are many important and valuable ways that you can assist me at home in supporting your child’s vocabulary and reading comprehension growth. Although much of the educational research has focused upon younger students, there have been some studies done on the older learner (4th through 12th grade). There is much to look at in the research that bodes well for parental modeling, guidance, and support in the area of literacy. You absolutely can make a big difference in the educational life of your child!
As adolescents enter the later grade-school and high school years, sometimes their motivation to read wanes. This is why it is important to try to harness your child’s interests and direct those interests toward finding reading material that they will enjoy. “Authentic” reading material, or the kinds of things that like reading about, can be found anywhere, and not just in a book. The internet, which, let’s face it, is probably where your older child will spend a majority of the time “reading” things, is a treasure trove of possibilities.
Do not overlook the power of multi-media. One can find as much quality reading material online as almost anywhere else today. Does your child love cars? How about this site? Is science an interest? Kids Discover Magazine is a wonderful online source where you can download free apps. Is fashion important to your child? How about Seventeen Magazine? Lots of my students love to read about animals and Ranger Rick is a fun site for students of all ages. Here is a site that lists a lot more online magazines for students. I jokingly tell my students that I don’t care what they are reading–as long as they are. I’ve had kids bring in cereal boxes that we’ve read sometimes. The point is, the student should be reading what they want as often as they can, and enjoying the process. It will hopefully transfer new knowledge and skills along the way, and increase the motivation to learn.
You can encourage life-long reading in your son or daughter through modeling that behavior at home. Parents have a major role to play in the reading life of their child. Simple activities, such as finding books that examine shared hobbies or interests, or through discussion of articles in the newspaper or magazines can help immensely.
For example, if you and your child are interested in sports, you could find articles about your favorite players or teams, cut them out, and put them on your refrigerator door. You could ask your son or daughter to read the article, and then discuss it together. Ask them questions about what they read and their opinions.
Or, you could go to the library to look for all kinds of books about anything they may be interested in. The public library here in Old Bridge is a fantastic resource. You will not only find a huge selection of children’s and young adult literature in every genre, but there are also numerous books on tape, not to mention, great programs for students like book club discussions.
Those are just a couple of easy ways to support your child’s literacy growth. Perhaps you do these things already (good for you!). Listed below are many more ways you can not only enhance your son or daughter’s vocabulary strength, but also at the same time, build up your child’s motivation to read and the real possibility that you will encourage them to become life-long learners. It really is never too late.
Tips to Get Your Child Reading and Developing a Robust Vocabulary:
- Watch high quality programming with your child. Young children who watch informational programming instead of cartoons, situational comedies, and other kinds of commercial television develop a better vocabulary (Pressley, p. 231).
- Encourage reading at home. Take your child to the library and model taking out books
- Tell jokes that use wordplay. Tell stories using interesting words.
- Be a word collector. Make it a Saturday or Sunday dinner ritual to share a new or interesting word you have learned and have your child do the same.
- Play word games in the car, like hot potato using synonyms or antonyms. For example, pick a word to begin (hot), take turns thinking of synonyms (warm, blazing, roasting, scorching).
- Play (board) word games at home for fun. Boggle, Scrabble, Scattegories, Upwords are all fun games to play, but there are so many more to choose from.
- Give your child gift certificates to bookstores and subscribe to magazines suited to their interests.
- Clip interesting articles from the newspaper of interest and put them on your refrigerator. Discuss them at your leisure.
- Take your kids to places you may not visit very often. Plays, zoos, museums, historical sites etc. will expose your child to new experiences and words.
- Just talk! Exposure to words through conversation is how we learn much of our vocabularies. Turn off the tv, shut down the computer, and talk about things. Try to use a more mature and varied vocabulary.
- Listen to books on tape while driving in the car. You can borrow them from the library (Old Bridge Library has an extensive collection).
- Help your child with their weekly vocabulary by using those words throughout the week in your daily language and speaking.
- Model reading at home. Children and adolescents who see their parents read will be more likely to emulate that behavior themselves.
Go for it and good luck!