Wearing My Zucchini – Growing Vocabulary


Zucchini or Bikini?  Childen with the largest vocabulary become the strongest readers.


“ Mommy, I want to wear my zucchini.” 

“Your what?”  mom asks.

“My ZU-CHI-NI,” responds the three year old, speaking slowly to add emphasis.

“I don’t know what that is.  Can you show me?”, the adult responds

She strolls over to the drawer and picks out her swimsuit.  

My “zucchini”, she says emphatically.

 “Wow, honey.  That’s a really big word.  You knew that the other name for a swimsuit was a bikini.  It does sound like zucchini.”

Good job Mom! 

What a great parenting moment!  You took the time to listen for your child’s meaning and did your best to understand what she was trying to describe.  Did you know you were building her reading skills?

Research tells us that children who enter school with a large vocabulary become the strongest readers.  But in order to use language, children have to hear language. You are building language every day by offering your child concrete experiences and vocabulary to describe these experiences.  So, what does that mean? It means as he builds with his blocks, you describe what he is doing and ask him to make a prediction:  “I see you have put the rectangular block on top of the small cylinder.  What do you think will happen if you add another block to the top?” You may hear him use these same words again in the next few days or months. These words or concepts may not come out exactly as you expect.  Acknowledge his attempts and clarify for him, just as the mother of the child wearing the “zucchini” did.

The richest vocabulary can be found in children’s literature, storybooks that explore the child’s world with complex pictures and varied text. These stories take children to places we cannot go: on a safari to the Serengeti, under the sea to explore coral reefs, or perhaps to the heavens to investigate planets and stars. Our children will hear words like “supernova” or “barrier reef” in these stories. As you read and explain these words, your children will add them to their listening vocabulary. As they enter school and hear these words again, their little brains will light up with recognition “I know what that is!”  A good reader is being born!

So what kind of books do I choose?  Look for those with bright pictures and rich text.  Ask the children’s librarian at your public library to make recommendations. Beginning in the toddler years, your community’s library is the most valuable source of high quality literature, and it is available to everyone.  Make it a habit to let your child choose books and then you choose some for him as well.  I like to recommend the preschooler choose 5 books (for 5 fingers). If you have several children, the number is still manageable and easy to remember.  Once you bring the books home, you can open up new worlds to your child. Make reading part of your regular routine; before nap or bedtime, as you let your food digest after a meal, or instead of television when there’s “nothing to do”. As your child grows and reads on his own, you have left a legacy of learning.

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