Raising Readers Monday: Now I Know a Lot of Words

If you have kids, you probably know this book! Its funny pictures and quick rhyming text make it a favorite introduction to lots of words and phrases for young readers.  That’s a good reason to use it to introduce the topic of building vocabulary.

Recent research shows that it is reading, not exposure to spoken language, that contributes most strongly to vocabulary development in elementary age children.*

A 2012 report also shows that increasing the time infants and toddlers are read to increases both their receptive and expressive language skills.**

Why don’t you know what I want?

If all that sounds pretty dry and academic, let’s put it this way: Children who are read to from a young age understand more and can express themselves better.  Don’t we all want toddlers who understand and express themselves??!!  There’s no study on it, but I’ll bet you big money that translates to fewer tantrums from misunderstandings!

Children who read more in elementary and middle school have larger vocabularies and improved language skills. Better language skills and bigger vocabularies translate to improved test scores, classroom performance, understanding of diverse materials, and eventually, a better chance at completing college coursework and being productively employed.

And when kids don’t read? Well, statistics aren’t everything, but think about these for a minute:

More than three out of four of those on welfare, 85% of unwed mothers and 68% of those arrested are illiterate. About three in five of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. ***

Wow. That Is Not Cool.  

So, besides being suddenly motivated to help with the literacy problems in America (and you can find great organizations doing that on my Links to Like page) – what does this mean for you?

It means you should be exposing your kids (grandkids, nieces and nephews, students) to books on a daily basis.  Here’s some ideas to get the most language development bang for your book.

1. For infants and toddlers, choose books that show and label familiar situations, objects, body parts and emotions.  Go beyond what’s on the page when you’re reading with them.  Ask your child to make the sad face, mad face, surprised face that they see on the page.  Talk about situations in their life that make them feel that way.  I really love the book collections by usborne for young children.  

2. Another great idea is to make books for your child using pictures of familiar items and people in their world. Keep the photos simple and in focus, put them in a small album and add captions. Kids love to read these over and over again!

3. As kids get older, make sure to read aloud to them from a variety of materials.  Using magazines, newspapers, and non-fiction books as well as fiction stories exposes children to a wider vocabulary. Stop and ask the child if he/she understands difficult or unfamiliar words.  Make sure you set aside enough time to allow your child to ask questions as you read. Reading together – especially challenging or unfamiliar materials – should be an interactive experience. Try not to get impatient at “what does THAT mean?”

4. Look for books that have fun with language!

One of my favorites is There’s a Party at Mona’s Tonight by Harry Allard. As Potter Pig tries to figure out why he wasn’t invited to Mona’s party, he is “shown the door” and “given the boot.”  The story also includes words like “bamboozled,” and “dirigible” – and yet the context and pictures are so strong that kids can figure out many of the uncommon turns of phrase on their own!


You’re Toast (and other Metaphors We Adore) by Nancy Loewen is another clever and funny book with laugh-aloud pictures kids will love.




5. Don’t forget about the 3 Bears Rule for reading. No matter what level your child is able to read, encourage them to read 1/3 books that are a little easier, 1/3 books that are a little too hard, and 1/3 books that are JUST RIGHT.

6. Encourage and enable your child to find the meanings of words he/she doesn’t know. If you don’t have a dictionary, it’s still a sound investment.  Kids love using the computer to look up words – so let them! Not near a dictionary or mobile device? Ask them to write down the difficult words to look up together later.


Hope this gives you lots of great reading ideas for your family! Please, comment with favorite books for infants and toddlers or older kids!  I love to hear what your family enjoys reading!



*  Reading Can Make You Smarter by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich
** Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development, Dunst, Simkis and Hanby
***For the purpose of this particular report, “literate” was defined as “functional literacy” – reading at or above a 5th grade level.

5 thoughts on “Raising Readers Monday: Now I Know a Lot of Words

  1. Great post, Katey. Those statistics are scary, but all too real. Love your advice for reading with your family. Let’s see… books we loved… too many to list, really, but Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton was a favorite regardless of gender, as was Make Way For Ducklings (Robert McCloskey), Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse (Kevin Henkes), the George And Martha books (can’t remember author), and The Cat In The Hat… well, pretty much anything Seuss because they all have such great read aloud rhythm. For books to read to older kids we loved Fantastic Mr. Fox (Roald Dahl), Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), Ramona The Pest (Beverly Cleary), Misty of Chincoteague (Marguerite Henry), The Horse On The Roof (can’t remember author), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder), Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Betty MacDonald?), The Castle In The Attic (can’t remember author… Elizabeth something?), The Indian In The Cupboard (Lynn Reid Banks)… I think I better stop now 🙂


    • Thanks for reading, Susanna – and for all the great read-together ideas. Wow, I haven’t thought about Mrs Piggle Wiggle in a long time. I definitely need to find those to share with my kids.


  2. We read a lot in our house. Some of our favorites are “Goodnight Moon” “Baby Says” “Tale of Peter Rabbit” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” “George Shrinks” “From Head to Toe” “Blueberries for Sal” “Katy and the Big Snow” “Whose Knees are These” and anything Dr. Seuss, especially Hop on Pop and Fox in Socks.


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