Children’s ability to write well is heavily dependent on prior knowledge of vocabulary. If you don’t know the right or correct word you can’t use it in your writing. A good place to start supporting your child to learn a wider vocabulary is by looking at topics or themes being taught at school.
Schools frequently send home information about themes and topics to be taught over the term. Teachers will spend time teaching specific vocabulary but if your child is struggling with writing, introducing these words at home can give your child that extra opportunity to consolidate their learning. As an example, a commonly studied topic at primary school is recycling. Vocabulary associated with recycling are words like, rubbish, compacting, sorting, ecological, ecology, waste, habitat and so on. Introduce these words into your conversations (dinner time, driving in the car are good times) talk about their meanings and how you might use them in a sentence. You can also talk about their opposites and other words which might mean the same thing. Looking for books, fiction and non fiction about these topics and including them in the before bed reading routine is another way of introducing subject specific vocabulary. For upper primary and high school students a useful resource is www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist which is a series of lists of the most commonly used words in academic writing.
As always, ensure that discussions are upbeat and short, unless your child becomes deeply interested in the topic in which case follow their lead. If you come across a word you the parent don’t know use this as a great opportunity to model a growth mindset and enlist your child to help you to engage with the challenge. Work together to figure out what this word means and enjoy the satisfaction of learning something new.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.