Why is providing opportunities to learn new words so important for our children? Words are what we use to: think, express ideas, express feelings, understand what others say, learn, and relate to other people. In short, words are how we express ourselves- our thoughts, emotions, ideas, and experiences! And a child’s vocabulary influences a lot more than just his or her ability for verbal expression. A child’s vocabulary impacts his or her ability to listen, follow directions, to write and to read. Words get us noticed by our peers, family, friends and people in the community.
Children learn vocabulary in a variety of ways. In the early years, birth to 4, children primarily learn words from what they hear- what is spoken to them. Parents and caregivers can help at this stage by exposing their children to rich conversational experiences and books. Rich conversations include those that provide opportunities for children to explain, give personal narratives, pretend play (creating and recreating events), and to share their opinions and ideas. During school years, children learn vocabulary through written language and what they read. Set aside 15 minutes a night to read with your child. Encourage them to read with you and to let you know words they don’t know so that you can look them up together on Dictionary.com, or the old fashioned way- with a dictionary. This is a great time to learn new words and apply them to what they already know.
However, hearing words alone is not enough for many children. Children who have specific language impairment, cognitive delays, autism, and other impairments are at an increased risk for poor vocabulary development. For these children, vocabulary needs to be purposefully taught. They must also have opportunities to practice saying new words in many contexts.
Before a word can be added to a child’s vocabulary, it first needs to be heard or read. Let’s say the word is “aisle”. Your child first hears the word when you say it at the grocery store. At this stage, he does not know or understand what the word means. The next step is to understand what the word means in familiar contexts. At the grocery store he knows what an aisle is, but not in other settings such as at the movies, or on an airplane he does not. The last step is “knowing” a word well in any context; your child understands and uses the word across settings: at the grocery store, in the movies, etc. It is estimated that before a child with language impairment can comprehend a word they need to hear it in context 25 times. They then need to have an additional 25 exposures to the word with practice saying the word before they can independently produce the word.
One way we can help develop a child’s vocabulary is through the SEER method.
S: Say the word in context (Context = the parts of discourse that surrounds a word and add to the words meaning)
E: Explanation provide a child-friendly explanation of the word.
E: Example give an example from your experience or the children’s experience
R: Repeat ask the child to repeat the word after you
New Word = different
Say These shoes are different from these shoes.
Explain Different means when something is not the same.
Example My shoes are different from your shoes, they are different colors.
Repeat Say different.
Try the SEER method at home, in the community, or when reading a story. Remember to have fun with learning new words!
Lafferty, Addie. Language Assessment and Intervention in Preschool Populations; “Interactive Reading.” March 2012. PowerPoint presentation.