Little Kids, Big Words

I think it’s so important that we choose appropriate books for our kids.  Appropriate in terms of content, length, language and more.  But I also believe it’s important to stretch our kids a little.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of only buying and borrowing “toddler” books right up until formal schooling starts!  Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying we should read novels to young children.  Eek!  But I am saying that we need to make sure our kids are increasingly exposed to stories with quality sentence structure and broader vocabulary as they grow.

The easiest way to do this is to go with an area of interest for your child.  As they get older they will do this naturally.  Regular SquiggleMum readers will know that I’m a bird nerd, and my kids are too.  So this week my three year old borrowed two wonderful picturebooks from the library about birds.


Birds Build Nests (written by Yvonne Winer and illustrated by Tony Oliver)

King of the Birds (written and illustrated by Helen Ward)

Both contain language which is a bit more of a stretch for my daughter, but she has just loved them.  Birds Build Nests is written in verse, with each stanza describing a different type of nest.  In this book she has come across words such as tranquil, rookeries, abandoned, silhouetted, etched, fledgelings, tailors, intricate, russett, delicate, craggy, predators, secure, camouflaged, tundra and more!  These aren’t words a toddler typically encounters, but my daughter coped with them because they are well supported by the illustrations, and they relate to an area of personal interest to her.  In our (several) readings of this book we have talked about many of these new words, though I did not stop and explain each new word to her as we read unless she particularly asked.


King of the Birds is a retelling of an old folktale which we have read over, and over again.  It reads beautifully, and while some words have been new again for my daughter she has understood remarkably well.  Because the topic is of special interest to her she has coped with sentences like: “The struggling broad-bellied birds, the fluttering finches and sparrows, the lazy flap of gulls and slim-winged sea crossers, the busy wings of auks and the invisible beats of hummingbirds all rose higher… and higher, a column of birds circling up to the sky.


And on top of all this rich language, both books include identification guides at the end of the text.  My daughter and I have pored over these pages – looking up names of birds unfamiliar to us, comparing eggs, finding Australian birds and learning about habits of different species.  Of course I have not read these pages in their entirety to my daughter – she’s only 3!  But they have prompted wonderful conversations and I have been able to pick out facts to share with her.

What piques your child’s interest?  Is it insects?  Trucks?  Space?  Dinosaurs?  Dolphins?  Use their interest area as an opportunity to take them further with language.  And yes, that might mean you need to learn a thing or two about velociraptors or black holes or ornithology…

Happy reading!!

7 thoughts on “Little Kids, Big Words

  1. It not only challenges three year olds, I suspect it’s going to challenge 28 year old aunties!! Say “broad-bellied birds” five times fast!!

  2. Fabulous post…. my kids are all book lovers, especially the girls. We are probably reading a little above their level at the moment as they are heavily into chapter books and anything to do with fairies or imaginative creatures…. we are onto book three of four of the Little Fur series which often takes a little explaining but I can’t believe how into it they are!
    .-= katef´s last blog ..Foody Bits. =-.

  3. Thanks for the great post, Cath.
    “Birds Build Nests” looks like a beautiful book. In our house, Blake hears me read to Emma & Logan from novels and even though they’re not aimed at him, he takes things in from comments he makes.
    I wish we’d got that photo too! That would’ve been great! That last workshop I was at went longer than I’d thought. I hope there’ll be other times in future.

  4. I totally agree. I don’t think kids have to understand every word to benefit from a story. Exposing them to rich and varied vocabulary from when they are young will pay huge dividends later with their literacy development.

    We are bird lovers too. I am so pleased when i look on the ‘net and find little audio files so I can check a song too.
    .-= BookChook´s last blog ..The Book Chook Makes a Movie =-.

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