The people I know who are enthusiastic readers and highly articulate communicators have one outstanding trait in common. As children, when they didn’t know what a word meant and asked their parents, they were told, “Look it up in the dictionary.”
I heard this phrase frequently in my own childhood, and pulling down the big heavy book became a habit for me-one of the best habits I ever developed.
Why does consulting a dictionary help to develop reading aptitudes and enthusiasm?
If you think about the skill involved in reading, you can imagine the challenge for a child to translate little marks on a page into something familiar to them: a cat, tree, or color. This challenge becomes much greater when they encounter a word that seems to have no context in their experience. When a child stumbles over an unfamiliar word, he or she may feel discouraged and stuck. The temptation to put the book aside and do something easier will grow.
If, instead, that child has an available resource to help in understanding, discouragement can be kept at bay. Knowing that a question about a word can be answered gives a young person confidence in reading.
The dictionary provides additional learning. Sometimes the confusion about a word relates to it not looking the way it sounds. A child may very well know what it is to cough, but the spelling of the word may make it incomprehensible on a printed page.
Seeing the word used in a sentence in the dictionary can provide further understanding. Reading lists of synonyms and antonyms makes a stronger connection to a word’s meaning. Variant meanings offer the idea that language is rich and flexible.
Reading the history of a word’s origin helps to convey the idea of language as constantly evolving, and knowing its roots in other languages can be very helpful when the older child studies a second language.
In today’s world, with its many visual distractions in the form of television, movies, video games, and the endless forms of entertainment available on the Internet, parents who want their children to be literate need to be far more alert and vigilant than my own parents were.
Teaching children to exercise their imagination by turning the words on a page into their own, unique pictures is one of the best ways to encourage them to become creative and original adults for whom reading is a valued source of entertainment, information, and enlightenment.