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Jennifer Klepper is an ex-corporate attorney turned PTO president, volunteer child advocate and Cwist contributor. She is leading a discussion on inspriring curiosity and independence in girls with nature. Read and Comment »
Julie Wood is a literacy expert and an educational consultant. She is also an advisor for the upcoming PBS KIDS Island. Read more »
Sorry, Julie Wood is no longer taking questions.
Twenty-five high-spirited boys and girls would re-enter my fourth-grade classroom after noonday recess and head straight for the carpeted area in front of the reading chair, an old rocking chair I'd found at the flea market. This was the time of day when I would read to them from the library book of the moment - - "Charlotte's Web," 'Island of the Blue Dolphins," or maybe "Little House in the Big Woods."
I was twenty-six and was teaching in a small town in New Hampshire. I had not yet hit my stride as a classroom teacher. Before this assignment, I worked with struggling readers and writers as the school's reading specialist. I learned from veteran teachers that reading aloud after recess was "a good way to settle them down."
But reading together for a half-hour or so a day did so much more for us. We got to know each other through the books we read, and soon we developed a common language. We could draw upon the gentle humor of Charlotte and Wilbur, the pig that she, a spider, saved. We could talk about surviving on your own on a tropical island long before Tom Hanks showed us how in "Castaway." We could discuss the challenges that befell the early pioneers who settled the danger-fraught frontier after reading several books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Those were wonderful teaching moments - - the kind you look back on decades later and say to yourself, well, if nothing else, I helped my students develop a passion for children's literature. But there was more. We also, together, developed a love of words. I think it was when we were reading "James and the Giant Peach" that we made a subtle shift from not just talking about characters, plots, and settings, to also talking about language. We were intrigued by all those Technicolor words that Roald Dahl liked to flash before our eyes. An author who never talked down to kids, Dahl used words like pandemonium, malevolently, and enthralled, which were often new to fourth graders. Beginning with the words from "James and the Giant Peach," we started keeping track of colorful words, posters, and notebooks.
Much later in my career, I learned that instilling a love of words in children was not just an enjoyable way to focus children before their afternoon lessons. A love of words and a rich reservoir of word knowledge are essential for children. Word knowledge allows children to understand what they read and to express themselves in writing and speaking.
How quickly can children learn words? Experts estimate that children, on average, learn from three to twenty new words a day, which can result in 3,000-7,000 new words a year. But to really know a word takes several encounters, each of which offers rich clues about its meaning. Older children might be interested in learning Greek and Latin roots, which will help unlock the meaning of a great many words, particularly in science and social studies. This is because 60 percent of the words in the English language derive from Greek and Latin roots.
For younger children, try supplementing their reading by co-viewing PBS KIDS programs such as Super Why!, WordGirl and WordWorld. Also, a new series, "Martha Speaks," (about a word-loving dog) will premiere this fall. Be sure to check out the Parent & Teachers section on their web sites. They're packed with related reading and language activities to do at home.
If you plan to travel this summer, you'll likely discover great opportunities for vocabulary enrichment wherever you go. Take advantage of all the exotic and interesting words that you encounter each day and make them part of your family conversations. Try to work them into a family journal or online scrapbook when you get home.
What if your child would rather do anything but read? I highly recommend a book by teacher/author Esmé Raji Codell entitled "How to Get Your Child to Love Reading." Codell really covers the waterfront here in how to get children psyched about reading.
As you think about reading with your child this summer, what books are you likely to delve into? And how can you make vocabulary learning an integral part of the talk you do in and around books? I look forward to hearing from you!
Sorry, Julie Wood is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.