Christmas is a time for many things – decorating your home, enjoying time with your family and friends, having a well-deserved break, indulging in delicious food, the list goes on. But did you know that it is also a great time to build your child’s vocabulary?
It might sound strange, but there are many unfamiliar and rare words that arise during this time of year that your child may not understand, and there are many opportunities for your family to come together and just talk (which is one of the best ways to encourage vocabulary growth in your child).
To help you get started on building your child’s vocabulary, here are four festive ideas to try. And don’t worry, this isn’t about giving you more work to do over what is often an over-stuffed stocking of commitments kind of period. It is about taking advantage of the opportunities we have at this time of year to connect and grow.
1. Talk About Festive Objects and Events that Interest Your Child
What child doesn’t love talking about Christmas? The presents, the decorations, Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, festive food and so on. When your child shows interest, or asks about these festive things, that is a perfect opportunity to talk with your child, build on the interest or conversation, utilise familiar and unfamiliar words and offer explanations.
For example, if your 18-month-old points to the star at the top of the Christmas tree you might say; “Oh, look at the beautiful silver star. It is so shiny and pretty.”
Similarly, when you and your child talk about something you are both attending like wrapping presents or decorating the tree, you can demonstrate instructional language and use adjectives (describing words). For example, when wrapping presents you can simply describe what you are doing; “First we cut the paper” or “Now I will tie the ribbon”. When decorating the tree you might talk about how an ornament feels and looks i.e.; “This ornament is bright red and smooth to touch”.
You can also utilise Christmas objects and interests like Reindeers, the North Pole, the countdown, and festive traditions to build your child’s ‘world knowledge’ and discover new words that they may only hear at this time of year. After all, how often do you use words like festivities, gingerbread, ornaments, bon-bons, advent or even Eve throughout the year?
When interacting with your child we recommend adopting what The Hanen Centre refers to as the OWL approach – Observe what your child is interested in, Wait (without talking) for your child to send you a message and Listen for any ways your child might send you a message.
Children are motivated to interact when you talk about what interests them. By giving your child a chance to start an interaction about something they find interesting and lead it, they will be more likely to engage which creates more opportunities to learn and talk.
2. Have Christmas Conversations with Your Child
As children grow, the quality of the conversations you have with them should also grow. Using a time like Christmas to engage with your child in meaningful discussions can help them engage in an interaction they are interested in and maintain that interest.
Try asking your child ‘wh’ questions to help encourage a back and forth dynamic, for example: “What is your favourite part of Christmas Day?” To continue the conversation, you could also ask “Why is that your favourite part?”
Having regular conversations with your child is also important when it comes to managing the Christmas chaos and any thoughts or uncertainty related to the busy time of year. Just talking about what is going to happen and when will help them build vocabulary (ie. “Christmas Eve is when Grandma will arrive in her car”) as well as help alleviate any anxious thoughts and feelings they may be experiencing.
3. Read and Discuss Christmas Stories
Speech pathologists love books as they are the perfect shared activity for parent and child, and also provide endless opportunities to name objects, characters, animals and actions which is a great way to build vocabulary. Of course, when it comes to shared reading time, it is important to select books that children are interested in, and I have not met a child that does not like at least one Christmas story.
When reading with your child, encourage them to name objects on each page and ask them about the actions a character might be doing i.e. sleeping, opening presents, running, jumping, singing. You can also used shared reading time to help your child emotions. For example, you could ask your child to look at the characters face and ask: “Do you think the girl is excited about Christmas?”
You can also relate a story to your child’s own experiences and help them build vocabulary around concepts of past and present. For example, when it comes to Christmas stories, reflect on your family’s last Christmas and what you did. You can also encourage your child to make comparisons when reading a book by asking them what is different to their experiences i.e. If you are reading a story about a white (winter) Christmas, you could ask your child: “How is the character’s Christmas different to Christmas in Australia?”
4. Make and Create Christmas Crafts
Building your child’s vocabulary can happen during any shared task, but as we have mentioned, the more engaging the task, the more opportunities there are to use words and help them understand their meanings.
Craft activities are not only fun, but are a great way to introduce new words, help them listen to and follow instructions (i.e. “First we fold the piece of paper, then we cut it using the scissor.”) and take turns. When creating something like Santa’s face you could talk about the colours of the paper i.e. “Should Santa’s hat be red or blue?” You could also provide step by step instructions to help your child create their Christmas craft. By using words like under, over, through, inside, outside etc, you are exposing your child to different nouns, prepositions, and verbs.
With so many fun words to introduce, books to read, craft to create, and family fun to be had; Christmas really is a great time to connect with your child, grow their understanding and build their vocabulary.