Having a good vocabulary is essential if a child is to be able to read, write, spell and, indeed, express themselves, their needs and wishes, and how they are feeling about any situation they may find themselves in. A child who cannot express themselves is one that will grow into an adult who is unable to take responsibility for their own feelings, successes and happiness. This makes having a good vocabulary a crucial core life skill for kids to master. However, kids can often find learning vocabulary, especially the basics, rather boring. This is because when they first start out, they are typically provided with a list of words, often based on a common theme (such as -an words, or -ag words), that they must them learn to read and spell. I can see where this approach comes from, but from the child’s perspective, it can be ever-so-boing, especially if all they’re allowed to do is sit at a table and read, write or spell the words. Traditional flash cards are somewhat of an improvement, but they’re hardly going to have your child, especially younger ones, enthusing over their word lists. However, with a little bit of thought, learning basic elements of vocabulary can become so much fun that it will no longer be a chore, but rather it can become something your child actively looks forward to. The key here is to turn it into a game, and preferably one with plenty of active involvement on the part of your child. This is because children, especially younger ones, learn better if there is physical activity involved, and even more so if you can make them laugh while they’re doing it too.
Turning the learning of words into an active game isn’t nearly as difficult as it might, at first, seem, and all it takes is a bit of imagination and some advanced planning. To show you how this can be done, you’ll find five games based around learning lists of words that almost every child will enjoy playing. These games contain four basic physical activities: rubbing out, fetching, leaping around and jumping up and down, all of which your child will get to do when they successfully identify a specific word from their current word list, and it is this that makes it fun for them to do.
So what are these games? Well, here they are:
Word Eraser: This is a very simple vocabulary game that can be played almost anywhere. All that’s needed is a dry erase board (something that should be part of every parent’s teaching tool kit), some erasable pens and a cleaning rag. Before starting this game, write down every word on your child’s current word list, and then hand them the board and the cleaning rag. Now, call out an individual word from the list, and when they correctly pick it out, they get to rub it off the board. This game is perfect for children aged between about four and seven as they will love rubbing the words out whenever they get them right. As with all the games featured in this post, you can tweak it slightly depending on whether you wish your child to concentrate on learning to read the words, or on being able to spell them. For example, if you want to improve the speed of their reading, you can play this game against the clock (although only do this if you child is up for it, rather than forcing it on them as some children will get stressed out by the added pressure of a time limit). Similarly, if you want to concentrate on the spelling side of things, you can make them sound out the letters as they rub each one out.
Post-It Note Fetch: This game requires a bit more preparation, and a stack of Post-It notes. Start by writing each word from the word list they are currently learning on a Post-It note and then stick them to a wall in your house. You can either stick them all side by side in one place, or distribute them around the room. Once all the Post-It notes are in position, call out the first word on the list and encourage your child to fetch it and bring it to you as quickly as possible. Once they’ve successfully retrieved the first word, move onto the next one, and the next until all the Post-It notes have been collected. This game is perfect for kids between about the ages of five and eight. Again, if you wish to make this game more complex, you can add in a timed element, and if you have more than one child, you can use two different colours of Post-It notes, assigning one to each child, and see who can collect their words fastest. Similarly, you can play a variation on this game based on snap, where you show your child the word written down, and they have to read it out before finding the matching word on the Post-It notes on the wall.
Word Shredder: This is a variation on Post-It Note Fetch, and is one that you can play if you happen to have a paper shredder in your house. Write each word from your current word list on a sheet of unwanted, but used, printer paper (i.e. one that has been printed on the other side), and then lay them out on the floor in the same room as your paper shredder. When you call out a word from the list, encourage your child to sound it out, and then locate the sheet of paper that it is written on. Once they have correctly identified it, they can fetch it and bring it to you to be fed into the paper shredder, and together you can watch it being consumed by the machine (Note: Shredders are not toys, so always supervise your child around paper shredders, and never let them feed the paper in themselves until they are old enough to do it safely). Once the first sheet has been cut to ribbons, they can move onto the next one, and then the next until all the words have been shredded.
Word Islands: Word Islands is a variation on a game that was popular when I was a child. Old sheets of newspaper would be laid out on the floor and you had to move around the room standing only on the paper (the islands) and not on the carpet (as it was a shark-infested tropical sea!). In Word Islands, write each word on a sheet of paper (printer paper is perfect for this) and lay them all out on the floor (making sure that it is not a floor that they can slip around on!). The words should be placed close enough together to allow your child to easily jump between them. This is a game that children between the ages of five and nine will love, and it starts with your child standing in front of the words. You then call out a word, and they then have to identify it and jump onto that word island. Once they have done this, call out the next word on the list, and they have to jump onto that word. You can now work your way back and forth through the word list, calling out each word multiple times, and gradually getting faster and faster until your child either cannot keep up or falls over. This will almost always result in fits of laughter. If you wish to work on their spelling as well as reading, then you can require them to call out the letter sounds of each word before or as they jump onto it. Similarly, for older kids, you can provide them not with the word, but with its meaning to help develop their word interpretation skills. If you have more than one child, then they can take it in turns to jump onto the selected word, with any wrong choices resulting in that child being eliminated. The winner is then the last child standing.
Word Balloons: This game requires a packet of small latex balloons. These can be bought relatively cheaply from almost any balloon seller, or you can purchase them from here (for UK-based parents) or here (for US-based parents). The game is simple. Inflate as many balloons are there are words on your current word list, and then write one word on each balloon. Make sure that you use a water-based marker and not an oil-based one (as these will cause the balloon to burst prematurely). The type of markers designed for dry erase boards are perfect for this. Once you have all the balloons ready, scatter them around the room, and then start calling out words from the list. Your child then has to find the right balloon and burst it, either by stamping or sitting on it. If you wish, after they have burst a few balloons, you can start re-stocking with fresh balloons marked with words that have already been found. This will prolong the game and prevent them from just guessing the last few words on the list. In fact, if you have two children (or indeed a second adult), you can turn it into a competition, where one has to call out the words, while the other bursts them while you continually add new word balloons. The idea here is that the team that is calling out and bursting the balloons has to try to pop them all before you can re-stock the floor with replacement balloons.
These, then, are just a few ideas for games which you can use to make learning basic vocabulary fun and entertaining, and if you cycle through them on a regular basis, you’ll find that there’s less of a chance of your child becoming bored with any particular one. Similarly, you can add new variations or games into the cycle as you come up with them, and indeed, changing the rules and switching things around each time you play them will not only keep the games fresh, but will help your child develop their self-control and delayed gratification, as they will continually have to be thinking about which set of rules to follow in each particular game and variation.
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.
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