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Vocabulary Learning – Don’t Dumb It Down

This post refers to certain words that we use when communicating with children. These words are not found in the dictionary or if they are we are not properly using them. Do they need to use the potty? Or do they need to go to the restroom? The primary definition for potty, chiefly used by the British (unless of course you are one of those “parents” speaking to a child), can be defined as trivial or of little importance. Yes, the second definition is a small pot for urination so I guess that makes sense if your child is still using the training “potty,” but otherwise, they are using a toilet – not a potty. How about “snacky?” I could not find that one in the dictionary.

Please do not misunderstand me or my point as I believe baby talk was cute and fun. It was even appropriate when my child was a baby and communication was limited. However, once children can effectively communicate and are learning to read, we should speak correctly (old habits are hard to break so don’t start them). Personally I think we are doing our children a disservice if we are not speaking correctly. Whether it is a restroom, toilet or potty – at some point you need to converse using the appropriate terminology.

My idea for this post originated from reading an article on the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) website discussing vocabulary learning. I was particularly drawn to the following statement, “Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language.”

Children learn vocabulary indirectly by engaging in conversations, listening to adults read to them, and reading on their own. The latter two methods are incorporated in most people’s evening bed time rituals or throughout the day. The one that interested me the most and triggered this post is the first one.

The NIFL article stated, “The more oral language experiences children have, the more word meanings they learn”. After reading that I decided to focus on teaching my children the correct word the first time! Aside for some minor terminology hiccups, I am pleased to write that I talk to both of my children like young adults and talk about almost anything. Of course some things are not up for an elaborate discussion at this point (e.g. Santa Claus and sex as my children are 5 ½ and 7 years old).

To conclude on a serious note, children learn words and their meanings by listening to adult’s converse or having a conversation with them. So with that being said, or read in your case, shouldn’t we teach our children to speak correctly? My immediate response is yes and yet five minutes ago I asked my daughter if she needed to go to the potty. I would prefer to say restroom, but as I wrote earlier, some habits are hard to break!

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