When I taught high school English I couldn’t understand why my students didn’t love their vocabulary workbooks. I mean here it was: WORDS and LISTS all on in place. How could you not love that? And so I would make up games to pique interests but in the end, some of them memorized enough words to pass the test and most of them forgot all the words afterwards.
“Teaching” vocabulary is a waste of time, in my opinion. Learning vocabulary isn’t. I’m a huge fan. But our understanding of the way words are learned is crucial if we want to make the best use of our time.
Vocabulary is learned the same whether you are 2 or 24. We learn words by hearing them and reading them in context. Even when the words are too hard to understand, over time, they become a natural part of our vocabulary if they are a regular part of it. (Conversely, trying to memorize words that are not used regularly will be forgotten. Ask anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language without practicing it regularly.)
We would do well to continually revisit the way a baby learns. It’s so natural and none of us stresses about it (until the latest
hogwash propaganda about “learning readiness”). Then someone convinces us that even though we were brilliant at learning when we were babies and toddlers, we lose that ability at 5 or 6 then someone has to come in and rescue us to keep us from becoming idiots.
Language builds upon itself. With a rich environment of reading and mature conversation, the formal study of vocabulary pales as a rival.
This is fantastic news for homeschooling parents. Vocabulary doesn’t need to be a separate subject. Instead, we need to grow our own vocabularies, use them in our daily conversations, and make sure our children are reading rich literature instead of twaddle.
Because we learn vocabulary through what we hear the most, other things that profoundly affect a child’s language development are peers and media. Most children are with peers for the majority of the day and so their vocabulary reflects that. As a homeschooling parent, be aware of the numerous opportunities in the day that you are teaching just through dialogue.
And make sure those opportunities aren’t being robbed by the constant distraction of media. Conversation will not take place unless it is given space to happen.
If your own vocabulary is lacking, I would suggest learning a new word each day as a family. Write it on a chalk board or prominent place in the house and then challenge everyone to use it as often as they can.
Learning language is phenomenal and yet quite simple. Save your time and put away the unrelated lists of words. Instead, weave them into the fabric of your life.