Use BIG Words with Kids

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Parents sometimes ask if my picture books have any hard words in them. They do—a few here and there. And I’ve noticed that parents may shy away from getting the books because they think anything beyond “See Spot run” is too advanced for their kids. But nothing could be farther from the truth! It’s really important to use big words with kids.

Big words, whether they are found in children’s books or in conversation, play an important role in brain development. Studies have shown that the more words a child hears before entering school, the more advanced their reading skills will become over the next few years. Consider this—all words are big words to a newborn, but how do they learn words and their meaning? By hearing them repeated over and over again.

So don’t be afraid to use big words with kids. Don’t worry about whether your kids know exactly what each word means. The important thing is that they get used to hearing a rich variety of words early in life. And in most cases, they will learn the meaning of the words by how they are used in conversation. If they’re extra curious about the meaning of a new word, they will ask. It’s how kids learn.

Keep in mind that “sophisticated vocabulary use” for a preschooler is fairly ordinary vocabulary use for an adult. When you find a new word, share it with your kids…let them hear you use it in ordinary conversation. It will make a big difference in their language skills during their early years in school and help them to be more confident as they move through school. So use your words during casual conversations and read stories with your children and discuss them together.

Covers of three picture books by Don M. Winn, including the Higgledy-Piggledy Pigeon, Space Cop Zack, Protector of the Galaxy, and Twitch the Squirrel and the Forbidden Bridge. Along with each book cover is an example of questions from the back of each book that parents can use to start discussions and use big words with kids.
All of my Cardboard Box Adventures picture books include a list of questions that are great for starting conversations with kids.

Here’s my own experience with this:

My dad loved words. He loved to read and he loved the words he read. He loved using the words he read. He loved using them with me and all my siblings (and you can see that his influence still prevails). So as a four-year-old, I was accustomed to being told to stop being obstreperous instead of being told to play quietly.

I didn’t always know precisely what the words meant when I would ask my dad if I could go play outside and he would reply that it might be feasible if I put away my toys first. But I always knew exactly what he meant. Sometimes I would ask him what a certain word meant, and if he felt like expounding, he would tell me. Other times (when I was a little older) I was told to get a dictionary and look it up. Sometimes I would do that and he would help me by explaining the definition. Other times I decided I didn’t care that much about what the word meant anyway. There was never any pressure one way or the other.

A while back, someone asked me if it had ever bothered me when my dad did that to me. I had to say no. I never felt like my dad was “doing that” to me but rather that he was just sharing something he loved with someone he loved (me!). Sometimes I was interested and sometimes I wasn’t.

But there’s more. Because of my father’s habit of showering me with words, I feel like they lingered at the edge of my consciousness throughout my early years. When I encountered them again in school or in books, I felt at home with them. I think this was important. I still had to learn exactly what they all meant, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by them. I felt that in a sense, they already belonged to me, that when it came to learning new words, I was already halfway there.

It was a very subtle boost to my confidence that my father had given me, maybe even unknowingly. But my Dad’s use of BIG words early on made a huge difference in my life.

Three covers of picture books by Don M. Winn, including The Tortoise and the Hairpiece, The Watch Cat, and Chipper and the Unicycle, along with a page of text from each book with some advanced vocabulary words on each page, so parents can use big words with kids.

And here’s another feature of my Cardboard Box Adventures (CBA) picture books: they contain words and expressions that are not in your average preschooler’s vocabulary. Please keep in mind that CBA picture books are written for children and parents to read out loud together so they can talk about the stories. That means that parents will be there to help children out with any unfamiliar words. This provides a great opportunity for parents and kids to have casual conversations about words. These conversations about words may seem ordinary and unimportant to an adult, but they provide a crucial element in establishing a solid foundation for a child’s future language skills. So use big words with your kids! You’ll be glad you did.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.