The power of words

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Did you know that adults only use 9 rare words per 1000 when talking to children, but children’s books offer almost 31 per 1000? A rare word is considered to be one that is not used in the vocabulary of a child in Grade 5. They don’t have to be complex words and might be as simple as "hustle", "outrageous", "flamboyant", "hilarious", "fierce" or "bristle". 

Rare words are often adjectives or describing words and form a large part of our vocabulary and everyday conversations. We often use them when we're making a story interesting, trying to clearly express ourselves, or sharing how we’re feeling… and what parent doesn’t want to give their child the ability to clearly express how they’re feeling? It would make understanding all those big feelings so much easier!

When you come across a tricky word while sharing a story with your child don’t change it: explain it!

Don't skip the tricky words

We often don’t give adjectives much thought when chatting with adults but being aware of them when we're talking with children helps build their vocabulary as well as creating foundations for their communication skills later in life.

When you come across a tricky word while sharing a story with your child, don’t change it: explain it! You can give a child-friendly definition and keep reading. For example: “Gerald simply froze up, he was rooted to the spot. 'They’re right,' he thought, 'I’m useless, Oh, I feel like such a clot.'” (Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae). You might explain to your little one that "rooted to the spot" means he was frozen in one place and a "clot" is when you feel silly.

What if it's a word you're not familiar with?

If it’s a word you're unfamiliar with when sharing a story then this is a great opportunity to look it up together in a dictionary or on your phone, or have a guess at the meaning from the words or pictures around it. It’s great for your children to see you working out what words mean so they learn to do it themselves.

Book with interesting new words 

  • Thesaurus rex by Laya Steinberg
  • Move by Steve Jenkins
  • Giraffes can’t dance by Giles Andreae
  • Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor

More information

Massaro, D. (2016) "Two Different Communication Genres and Implications for Vocabulary Development and Learning to Read". Journal of Literacy Research, 47(4), pp. 505–527. doi: 10.1177/1086296X15627528.


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