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The one tool that matters most

What one tool do you think would best predict a child’s success at school? Name-brand school supplies? An organizational planner? No. The tool that matters most is the child’s vocabulary at the time he or she starts school. Specifically, the listening vocabulary. Of course, a good school is going to teach your child new words. The words children already know are the ones they will use to understand the teacher. A school instruction is mostly oral in the first few years, before students learn to read. So, the child with the largest vocabulary will understand the most.

The benefits of a large vocabulary

Teachers should always meet a student where he is and reword phrases he did not understand. But research shows that the vocabulary gap is never really closed. Those students who start school with a smaller vocabulary will end it with a smaller vocabulary. And those with a larger vocabulary will achieve greater academic success.

Similarly, a person with a large listening vocabulary is better poised to learn from God’s Word. The oral instruction in chapel and at church is most accessible to someone who understands the most words. The student who understands the most words will be more capable of learning Christ. To know Christ is to love Him. And to love Him is to live in Him and through Him in all of life.

Growing your child’s vocabulary

So, how do I as a parent prepare my child for school and life? The more words a child hears in the first 3 years of her life, the larger her vocabulary will be by the time she starts school. Starting with babies, talk to your children, even though they do not understand and cannot respond. Narrate your activities. Point out objects. Carry on “conversations” with the baby in your normal voice as if he has spoken to you, repeating what you think he might be thinking. You may feel silly, but this practice is much better than “baby talk.” It promotes social and emotional development in babies as well.

Read all the books! Cultivate a large library at home (and/or visit your local library regularly to check out books), and read often to your child. Even reading to newborns has an impact on their vocabulary development. Singing to your child is another way to introduce vocabulary. He will not mind if you can only make a joyful “noise.” At least, not until later. Include plenty of books and songs containing important truths about God. These truths will be foundational to understanding the gospel and living a life for Christ.

Start Now

If you think you may already be behind on helping your child develop a large vocabulary, start now! What if you are not a person of many words? Even a small increase each day in the number of words you speak to your child will add up over time. Every parent wants to give his children the best chance at success in life. Reading, talking, and singing with your children are some of the most important ways to prepare them for school and life.