Virtual learning & fun for early learners: Kids love learning big words

By Children’s Librarian Shelley Harris

Miss Jenny and I have been sharing a lot of words this week—big ones like “disappointed” and fancy ones like “scarlet.” The more words kids hear and know, the easier it is to read and keep learning new words: They can guess what a new word means when they know the other words in the sentence or paragraph. 

Reading a wide variety of books helps kids learn words:

  • Picture books often have bigger words than even beginning readers can understand on their own, making them great read-alouds for young kids up through lower elementary age students.
  • Nonfiction books are published for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as well as students and help kids learn about the world around them.
  • Photographs are especially engaging and offer a wealth of communication opportunities. 

But having conversations with kids is another important way to help them learn words. Right now, things in our world are very different. Junlei Li is an early education specialist who worked with Fred Rogers and is still a huge figure in the field. In this conversation on making a smooth transition into fall, he and a former teacher share ways to introduce young children to new words to help them through it. One example they had was using “uncertain,” a neutral word, instead of “scary.”

Ready to get started? Try these activities below that help kids learn and practice new words!

Watch these videos

We’ve shared videos in the past about growing vocabulary, as well. In this first video, Miss Jenny and I share a book we love about making mistakes. Kids often struggle with making mistakes, but they can be opportunities for conversations and even some ultimately happy accidents.

In this second video, there are no words! But there are cute animals, and you and your child can talk about them. You can describe them by animal, by color, by action, by speed, by levels of adorableness. You can share memories of visiting Professor Slughorn at the library and discuss why he’s not there now. For a short video, there are a lot of options. 

Read these books

Looking for more ideas? Try these titles!

Share wordless picture books! Kids and grownups can read the pictures and tell their own story. Prompt with “w” questions to get more ideas: who, what, why, where and when. Talk about the cover and predict what will happen. Discuss the illustrations and why certain colors were chosen. Every time you read, it can be a new story or discussion! 

Sylvie is a delightful story about a flamingo who starts eating new things and turns those colors. Kids can laugh and learn words like “paisley” at the same time. 

Stegothesaurs LOVES words. His snack isn’t just yummy; it’s “savory, succulent, scrumptious.” The day isn’t just hot; it’s “blazing, blistering, broiling!”

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga highlights an important word! This book takes readers through an entire year of Cherokee life and celebrations. How do you celebrate? What are you grateful for? There are so many wonderful conversations to be had.

Shelley Harris

About Shelley

Shelley is a children’s librarian with a passion for early literacy, serving and celebrating the disability community, and exploring technology. She can often be found practicing storytime songs with her black lab, Bingo.

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