Reading to Kids – For Vocabulary Building

I believe that reading to kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  This act facilitates many opportunities for growth in your kids and in your relationship with them.  While I’ll discuss in a later post several of the other advantages gained by reading to children, in this post I’ll discuss the vocabulary benefits. 

According to Jim Trelease in his book, The Read Aloud Handbook,
There is one skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure:  the child’s vocabulary upon entering school.  Yes, the child goes to school to learn new words, but the words he or she already knows determine how much of what the teacher says will be understood.  And since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who already has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary grasps the least.

Before kids have the ability to speak, they have the ability to understand words.  This is called receptive language

* The receptive language is what allows your toddler to perform tasks and understand questions that they would never be able to communicate themselves. 
“Go get the diaper for mommy.”
“Would you like more milk?”
* And the receptive language is what allows us to understand a foreign language before we feel comfortable speaking it. 

It is this receptive language that allows a baby/toddler/early reader to comprehend books that are well above their reading level.  And it is for this reason that I recommend books that are way more challenging for an age level that you might think possible.  While children are listening, they are learning new vocabulary.  Every time a new word is introduced, they are filling their reservoir for use at a later time.  The more words introduced, the better understanding, and the better understaning, the better their reading comprehension will be.  Listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension. 

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am a bit of a snob when it comes to children’s literature.  If one of my goals for reading to my kids is to develop their vocabulary, then I certainly don’t want to read to them books that either have a limited vocabulary or are poorly written.  For the most part, there are a limited number of plots – after that, books are all about how the author used and crafted words. 

I have attached a suggested book list.  (I will also post it under the “Favorite Things” section of my home page so that you can access it without having to find this post.)  I’m sure I’ve left some of my favorites out, but it is a good start.   I’ve listed books under general age groups, all of the way up to Senior High.  I believe that the longer that you read to your kids, the more words they are introduced to, and the bigger their vocabulary will be. 

I hope this gets you started reading! 

Preschool/Kindergarten/First Grade

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban
Billy and Blaze, by C.W. Anderson
Curious George, by H.A. Rey
Frog and Toad All Year, by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Little Bear, by Else Homelund Minarik
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
The Ox-Cart Man, Donald Hall
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown
Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams
Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, House on Pooh Corner, and When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

Early Elementary

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith)
The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh
Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit
The Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, etc, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter
Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, by Clyde Robert Bulla
Story of Dr. Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting
Stuart Little, by E.B. White
Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Middle Elementary

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
The Secret Garden, by F. H Burnett
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Where the Red Fern Grows, by L. Rawls

Late Elementary

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter
Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy), by J.R.R. Tolkien

Junior High

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
Christy, by Catherine Marshall
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Emma, by Jane Austen
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
1984, by George Orwell

Senior High

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Guilliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Silas Marner, by George Eliot
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee



Filed under Education at Home, Parenting

2 responses to “Reading to Kids – For Vocabulary Building

  1. TeeYi

    My formative years would have been so much richer had I read these books! It’s not too late, right??

  2. Emily

    I’m saving these lists! Reading aloud to them is the best part of our school day – the least stressful for sure!

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