Learning vocabulary is a milestone of reading and writing skills, as well as something kids do daily—sometimes without noticing. Whether your child needs to learn a specific set of vocabulary words or you’re looking to simply expand his vocabulary, here are ways to help.
1. Post words everywhere
In addition to—or instead of—flash cards that your child can keep in her back pocket and whip out during any downtime, try posting the words where your child will see them most often. This could be above her dresser, on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, in the notebook she carries around, on a bookmark, etc. Increasing the amount of interactions your child has with the words will help her memorize and comprehend them easier.
2. Learn word groups
The danger of drills and simple repetitions is that words are isolated from the context in which they function (i.e., phrases and sentences), which makes it more difficult for kids to remember them. Encourage your child to learn the words in groups that go together. For example, instead of crowd, think crowd of people—or, instead of data, think most accurate data. When studying a specific word, have your child list as many associations and connections as he can with the word, including drawing pictures of the word’s meaning.
3. Study context
Similar to word groups, understanding context is an important strategy for your child to study vocab more effectively. Have her consider the word in a sentence. What words often appear with or near it? Consider the context of the sentence also (formal? casual?). Can the word be used in multiple contexts or is it very particular? If you and your child are making flash cards, jot down a sentence from a book, an article, or another text with the word in it instead of just listing the definition of the word. To go a step further, have your child make up a new sentence with the word that has personal connections to her own life.
4. Use the words in daily life
Encourage your child to use the words in his day-to-day routine. You can choose one word, or a few words, per day or week. This might feel stilted at first, but it can be fun! Have your child pledge to use the word aloud or while writing, whether for homework or in his personal life (i.e., in a letter or an e-mail to a friend). If you choose to join the activity, you can model how you’d use the word, which will give him double the practice.
If widening your child’s vocabulary with no specific word list is the goal, prioritize reading. It’s one of the best ways to increase vocabulary while also improving your child’s comprehension skills and expanding her world view. Encourage your child to read books that are just a bit challenging for her; there should be just enough new words for her to learn, but not too many that reading becomes laborious and context clues are too difficult. In addition to independent reading, set aside time to read with your child. This is a great opportunity to tackle higher-level reading material—you can take turns reading aloud, or you can read aloud yourself.
6. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts
Listening is an excellent way for students to engage with material that they might not otherwise. Choose education-oriented or fun podcasts that you can listen to together or alone, preferably ones that speak to your child’s interests. Try videos as well; there are many videos that might address topical vocab words or that your child can put them into a song and dance routine
For years, flash cards have been touted as the way to learn vocab. This year, see how you might use them differently or even go without them. If your child has a study buddy or tutor, try incorporating some of these strategies in activities they already do.
More posts by Lisa Low
Kinesthetic learners typically learn best by using their bodies to help them take in information. You may have noticed that your child has an aptitude for physical activities, often fidgets, and/or likes to act things out—thankfully, such activities can also be translated into study habits and strategies. Here are some ways you can help your kinesthetic learner make the most of this learning style.
See where movement can be included in class settings
Movement is becoming more and more a part of the classroom, but there are still times, of course, when your child will be expected to sit and work quietly. Speak with the teacher to see if your child can possibly be seated somewhere where he can stretch out, swing his legs, or even pace at his desk—as long as he’s not disrupting the learning environment. Let your child know that it’s OK to tap his pencil or his foot—again, as long as he is not distracting others. The teacher may also be able to accommodate your child with objects he could use to tap into his sense of touch, such as squeezing a stress ball or feeling a strip of Velcro under his desk. A cut-up pool noodle can also be great for the feet.
Use objects and space
Objects can be great for learning specific concepts as well, as they can help your kinesthetic learner better understand an idea or a skill. Students can tie these objects and concepts to a physical movement; for example, gently tossing a ball between the hands while reviewing an idea can help your student access and reaccess the information, as she can later remember “the idea I reviewed while tossing the ball back and forth.” Have your child use space as well—consider role-playing to act out stories and information. Keep in mind that while you’ll want to encourage the movements of your child’s body, you’ll want to limit too many visual and auditory distractions.
Write and draw
Pen and paper may seem more conducive to visual and auditory learners, but these tools are also great for kinesthetic learners. The simple movement of the hands allows kinesthetic learners to use their bodies and retain information in a deeper way. Have your child make flashcards or draw out ideas, whether in pictures or diagrams. Mapping, for example, how characters are related in a book can be a great way for students to better understand the novel’s events and character actions. Mapping is a critical-thinking strategy that can strengthen your child’s ability to make connections.
Have your youngster take scheduled breaks during homework time. These breaks can be physical, like stretching, dancing, singing, or playing a clapping game; talking with a family member or watching a (short) fun video also works. Use space in this instance as well; if possible, have her play or walk outside. Indoors, she could move to a different place in your house, or change from sitting to standing, and vice versa. As little as five to ten minutes can make a big difference in increased attention and concentration.
Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher about what’s working and not working for him at school. You may be able to use some of the same strategies at home that will make the learning environments more consistent, and both of you will likely have insights for each other that can help your kinesthetic learner succeed.
More posts by Lisa Low
During the upcoming holiday break, learning can easily slump. But it doesn’t have to! Here are six ways to incorporate learning into the holidays so your child goes back to school refreshed and ready to study.
1. Read for fun
Reading, as you know, develops vocabulary, critical-thinking skills, fluency, and even empathy. Take your child to the library or the local bookstore at the beginning of the break so he has an array of choices throughout the holidays (or books to take along during travel). Look for books you can read aloud together—you read to him, he reads to you, or a combination. Expose your child to a variety of books—comic books, graphic novels, magazines, poetry, etc. Audiobooks are also great for fluency and are excellent choices if the reading level is just a bit above your child’s.
2. Play together
Gather your family members for a game night that will be both fun and educational—whether your kids realize it or not. Choose games that involve strategy or have to do with literacy, counting, or guessing. Think chess, Scrabble, charades, or various iterations of them. Games like Jenga are great for motor skills. Have your child be the scorekeeper, a role that involves counting and calculating. Most games are educational in some way, and they will provide bonding time for the family. You could even encourage your child to create her own board game!
3. Get cooking
Welcome your child into the kitchen. You might start at the very beginning, such as having him plan a grocery list and helping you buy and calculate costs at the store. Baking is a great (and delicious) way to enjoy learning how to work with measurements, and it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. This direction might even take you and your child into the chemistry of cooking (perhaps try experimenting with different recipes of the same item and see what happens!) as well as conversations about other cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles.
4. Create DIY projects
Encourage your child toward DIY projects, which inspire creativity and problem-solving skills. There are some ready-made kits, which teach children to make their own soap or birdhouse, for example. Check out your local craft store for ideas and supplies, or do new activities you could try together. Turn these projects into holiday gifts or decorations. Teach your child a skill you know yourself, like knitting or crocheting. Finally, encourage your child in building and construction activities. You could use materials you already have at home, such as cardboard boxes, paper-towel rolls, toothpicks, and Popsicle sticks.
5. Perform writing and scrapbooking activities
To make writing fun, expose your child to different genres she may not experience at school, such as the aforementioned comic books, graphic novels, or poems. Have your child respond to books she reads by writing. She can keep a journal in which she writes whatever she wants. She might want to create lists in her journal, chronicle daily events or special occasions, write letters to her future self, or keep a dream journal. Suggest that she write holiday cards or letters to a pen pal or relative. You could also make this more tactile and visual by encouraging your child to scrapbook and collage with pictures and illustrations.
6. Take field trips with the family
Plan some outside trips—perhaps to a museum, local landmark, or historical site. Hiking would be great if the weather allows! Ask your child questions; you could even create a “treasure hunt” of the place if you like. Some museums provide optional, educational activities for children as well. If you’re planning on traveling during the break, involve your child in planning the schedule, reading maps, looking up places to go, figuring out transportation, and researching the historical background of the city or town.
Regardless of whether you stay home or go away for the holidays, your child can sustain his learning throughout the break. Capitalize on the time to encourage your child’s passions. Also consider asking your child’s teacher if he or she has any tips or suggestions!
More posts by Lisa Low
Around age six, my daughter began to show interest in the upright piano pushed against a wall in our living room. Whenever I would sit down to play, she’d come stand by my side and listen. “Do another one, Mommy,” she’d say. “I like it when you play.”
Certain the attraction wasn’t my (very slim) musical talents, I made a mental leap: time for piano lessons! I signed her up at a local studio and thus began her weekly lessons—and our weekly battles.
“Have you practiced?” I would ask.
“I don’t want to,” she would answer.
“Come on, just 15 minutes,” I would coax. “You have a lesson tomorrow.”
Sometimes she would oblige without a fuss. More often, she’d go into warrior mode…bringing out the warrior in me.
“Becky, sit down and practice right now,” I’d say in my firm Mommy voice.
“No!” she’d respond.
Her face would tighten. Our voices would escalate. Then each of us would persist until one of us wore the other down.
About halfway through Becky’s second year of lessons she gave me a chilling wake-up call. There I was, by the piano, barking, “I said now!,” when she covered her ears and said, “Mommy, I can’t hear you. My ears hurt.”
As I stared at my little girl trying to block out the noise emanating from her mother’s mouth, I finally grasped the obvious: I was being absurd. My child had no interest in piano lessons. None. Why was I compelling her to do this?
Upon (overdue) reflection, I realized that I’d been operating from the well-intended but frail assumption that learning a musical instrument would enrich her life, just as it had enriched mine. I also assumed that she would enjoy practicing once she developed a habit. Like mother, like daughter, right?
Wrong. She’d been telling me as much for almost two years. But trained on my vision of all the wonderful benefits that would accrue as she gradually achieved mastery of the keyboard, I hadn’t heard her.
This was not one of my prouder parenting moments, but it taught me a valuable lesson. No matter what I might think was “good” for my daughter by way of life-enhancing activities, it was one thing to offer her an opportunity; it was another to impose it.
Acknowledging that your child is not interested in the same things you are doesn’t always come easy. If you starred on the baseball diamond and have fond memories of the dugout antics, it’s hard to swallow that your son hates swinging a bat. If you were the kind of kid who could lose whole afternoons curled up with a good book, it can seem incomprehensible that your daughter finds reading b-o-r-i-n-g. We assume that if we once reaped rewards from a certain activity, they will, too. Even as they balk, we cling to our memories of the benefits that come with persistence and determination (including, but not limited to, enhanced musicality, team camaraderie, good grades), so if only they will hang in there a bit longer…
Yes, our intentions are good. But forcing our kids to stick with something they don’t enjoy can have consequences. A once-agreeable child may turn balky or resentful. A child already inclined to proclaim, “I’m the boss of me,” may turn downright combative. And children of any temperament may lose their enthusiasm for sharing their ideas and interests if they feel their parents aren’t listening.
In the wake of my own piano battles, I have little patience for the parents who turn up the noise and pressure to turn out prodigies. Instead, I favor a simpler approach: listen to your kids. They will tell you what they do—and don’t—want to do, if only you’ll listen.
In my case, my daughter decided in middle school that she wanted guitar lessons. That lasted a nanosecond. Come high school, she announced that she’d signed up for a sport my husband and I knew nothing about: crew. When we learned what went into the grueling training, (“The only excuse for missing a practice is if there’s a death in the family!” the coaches announced at their one and only meeting with parents), my husband and I murmured to each other, “Becky won’t make it through the first season.”
Wrong. She rowed for four seasons and walked away with a bunch of national medals.
Jill Smolowe is the author of An Empty Lap: One Couple’s Journey to Parenthood and co-editor of A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents
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In today’s world, gone is the image of the child quietly studying at a desk, not making a peep at home or in the classroom. Both settings have become increasingly more interactive, with a variety of activities designed for students to learn in the ways that suit them best.
This doesn’t mean there’s only one way for your child to learn, however—there can be multiple ways that speak to him the most. Here’s a guideline for some of the different kinds of learners and how to cater to that learning style as a parent.
The visual learner is typically most helped by pictures and images. These can include diagrams, slideshows, colors, and maps. Your child is probably a visual learner if she’s more interested in the material when there’s visual media, like videos or a book with pictures. Visual learners are often interested in art, easily remember visual information, and appreciate observing the world around them. Using flash cards, identifying keywords, and color-coding important information can be particularly beneficial for visual learners. At school, it may be helpful for them to sit near the front of the classroom so they can translate information into visual data (like comics or mind maps).
Physical, or kinesthetic, learners tend to learn best by using their bodies to help them understand new information. Your child is likely a physical learner if he has aptitude in physical expression, like fidgeting and using gestures, and enjoys things like role-playing and acting. Drawing diagrams or using physical objects to identify a concept (like using coins or blocks for counting) can be really great for physical learners. Encourage your child to trace words, and let him know it’s OK to tap a pencil or his feet while working. Physical learners sometimes benefit from taking a break physically, like taking a walk or changing body position or a seating arrangement.
For auditory learners, sound is very important. Elements like rhyming, music, rhythms, and recordings tend to appeal to auditory learners. Indications that your child is an auditory learner include an interest in music, strong verbal ability, and an aptitude for listening. These types of learners may benefit from setting mnemonics to music or learning a song to help recall information. In addition, try
reading material aloud to your child or have her read it aloud herself—this includes assignments, directions, flash cards, and so on. Books on CD or podcasts could also speak to your child effectively.
Your child is likely a verbal, or linguistic, learner if he prefers speech and writing—anything from keeping a journal to writing notes and letters to composing songs and poems. When you read aloud from a book, does your child like following along with the words on his own? If so, he may be a verbal learner. In that case, try strategies that involve both speaking and writing. Your child may benefit from scripting and role-playing, too.
Logical, or mathematical, learners tend to defer to logic as a means for comprehension. Students who are proficient in math, notice patterns, think in terms of the big picture, and ask questions about how things work are often logical learners. These types of learners want to understand the reasons behind what they’re learning. Therefore, it can be quite helpful for logical learners to draw connections, instead of using rote memorization to retain information. Have your child use lists and make mind maps to find patterns within—and better understand—a system of concepts.
In addition to the above five learning styles, your child may be a social (interpersonal) learner or a solitary (intrapersonal) learner, someone who works better in groups or alone, respectively. Keep in mind that your child may be a combination of the different types, or lean toward one or another depending on the setting. Have your child try different strategies to see what might work for her best with certain concepts or material.
More posts by Lisa Low
“Some of the best memories are made in flip-flops,” says writer Kellie Elmore. But, sadly, all good things—even summer--must end. Fall is hinting at its arrival, and already it’s back to school.
As your kids swap their flip-flops for new school shoes and you begin to reinstate bedtimes, try putting daily reading back into your routine. These ideas will not only help beginning readers get their heads back in the game, but they’ll also help you continue to make great memories—with or without flip-flops.
- Everybody loves an audience—especially a furry one. Have your kids read aloud to pets, or even to a captive audience of stuffed animals.
- Let your child help you make a special reading spot—a cozy reading nook where he or she can settle in and read without distractions. Try draping a sheet over two chairs and adding some pillows to the floor.
- Declare it Laugh-a-Lot Day. Dig out the joke books and take turns reading jokes to each other. Use funny voices, or read while holding your nose. Bring out the comic books, and pore over the Sunday newspaper “funnies” together.
- Read aloud together. Take turns reading sentences, or pages.
- Create a reader’s theater. Assign yourself a character. Your child reads the narration, and you read the dialogue. Enlist the help of older siblings if other character voices are needed.
- Use technology to make reading fun. Record or video your child reading a story, encouraging the making of sound effects. Then watch him or her enjoy hearing it or watching it played back. For even more positive reinforcement, share the recording with an appreciative relative.
- Compose the beginning of a story, and let your child make up an ending for it. Add the child’s ending, your author bylines, and a title your child invents. Then sit back and let your child read the whole story back to you.
- For kids who find it hard to sit still, embed some reading practice into active games. Use sidewalk chalk to write sight words on a hopscotch board. Each time your child hops on a word, he or she reads it. Similarly, make a word version of Twister.
- Create a little suspense. Choose a few library books you think your child would like. Wrap each one in a brown paper bag, and write one sentence on each bag that hints at what the book’s about. At various times during the day or week, let your child choose a book. Have fun with the element of surprise.
- Instead of reading a bedtime story to your children when you tuck them in, let them tuck YOU in and read a story to you.
- Extend bedtime by 20–30 minutes—on the condition that your child use the time for reading. For added fun, darken the room and read by flashlight.
Christine French Cully is the editor in chief of Highlights for Children, Inc., where she is responsible for shaping the editorial direction of all the magazines, online content and products the company develops for children and their families. She plays a strategic, ongoing role in the development of the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels/around the globe. Cully, a mother of two, resides in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
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Not only are the arts an enjoyable way to pass time, they provide important opportunities for children to expand their creative thinking, express themselves, and learn more about the world. The arts provide children with skills they can use in their academic and personal lives, and are often just plain fun. Here are five easy ways to introduce the arts to your child at a young age.
1. Provide tangible materials (and time) at home.
Art supplies can be as simple as paper, scissors, and crayons, or can include more specific materials like watercolors and clay. Don’t forget household objects as well, like old magazines, twigs and leaves, Popsicle sticks, and uncooked pasta. You might provide a designated space for these materials, as well as a designated time—during the day or week—so children can become familiar with the artistic process. After an art project is complete, consider choosing an area on the refrigerator or wall for your child to display his work, which shows that his art is valued and creates opportunities for dialogue around it.
2. Interact with a variety of music.
Music is an excellent way for children to get into the arts, especially if they respond well to auditory activities. Expose your child to a variety of music—not just music for kids, but artists and albums that you enjoy as well, instrumental and otherwise. Encourage your child to interact with the music, dancing to it or creating her own songs with instruments (there are even projects to build your own instruments at home!). Check out family-friendly concerts in your community, such as at your local library, school, or park.
3. Read and pull ideas from books.
Books are some of the most imaginative spaces we can experience. Read with and to your child daily. Expose him to a variety of genres—including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic novels/comic books—but also, encourage him if he latches onto a specific genre, author, or series. Books are often a natural stimulus for children’s own work, places where they get ideas to write stories, songs, poems, or even plays. Consider gathering ideas or prompts from books you read together for your child’s arts and crafts time at home.
4. Visit a museum.
Museums may be intimidating, but they can also be very fruitful spaces that both you and your child can enjoy. Visit children’s museums, which are kid-friendly and often interactive; don’t shy away from art museums as well. Prep your child for what to expect at “grown-up” museums, and ask her questions during the visit: “What do you see? What do you think is happening in the painting? What do you like the best?” You can play the “I Spy” game with your child, create or discuss the backstory of the artwork, or find ways to connect what your child sees to her own experiences.
5. Check out opportunities in your community.
There may be art or music lessons (one-on-one or small groups), classes or camps, or one-time events and festivals in your community. Your local library may have weekly or monthly arts-oriented activities that you can take advantage of to learn more and meet new folks in the community. Libraries are also likely to have resources for other activities you might want to experience around town.
Children are never too young to start developing and exploring their artistic sides. The great thing about the arts is that they are all interconnected and build off each other. As children grow older, their experience of the arts can grow and change with them.