A recent study in Michigan suggested
that the extent of vocabulary instruction in kindergarten is limited across
schools in the United States of America, especially for those living at or
below the poverty level. While the study didn’t address the issue of children
with special needs i.e. those struggling with emotional and behavioral
disabilities – autism, intellectual disabilities, ADHD/ADD as well as other
learning disabilities, this is problematic because building vocabulary from a
young age is essential in developing a solid foundation for academic
achievement as well as the demonstration of essential social skills in future.

Here are a few strategies for
learning new words that could prove helpful in engaging your child with special
educational needs:

1) Play music
videos for the child, dance together if appropriate. Discuss the meaning of the
vocabulary used in the music. For example in the song “Firework” (Katy Perry),
show the child the video, pausing it at the sections where the fireworks appear. Tell the child that these are “fireworks”. If you are able, find other pictures of
fireworks (Google image search) and show the child other fireworks.

2) Following on the fireworks example at 1) above, after
finding pictures of other fireworks, describe them – beautiful, their colours,
formations, size – any adjective that may be relevant to them.

3) Following on 1) and 2) above, let the child say
which one they like, why, the sounds that they make – turn this into play… Look
at what else is in the video and talk about them.

4) Obtain a picture of fireworks along with other
pictures and play games focused on naming the pictures. If necessary introduce rewards that appeal to
the child. For example: say “my turn,
LOOK I found the red fireworks”. Now it’s
your turn! The Pocket Learner
Educational Development system
would be effective here.

5) In your story time, make up a story using the
words learnt, for example, “Harry was very afraid… there were fireworks everywhere
and the noise was so loud”.

Use every opportunity to impart new words to
your little one. If you visit the park together
point out the signs and explain them to your child. Find opportunities later in your visit to
test their understanding by asking the child to tell you what the sign means.
When you return home you may wish to reproduce the sign or find a picture of it,
thus reminding the child of its meaning.

7) Have your child dramatize the meaning of new
words. For example: “hands up; hands down, close your eyes, hop,
skip, jump. The complexity of the
vocabulary will depend on the academic level/capability of the child.

8) Use the new words regularly. For instance,
before your child goes off to school, say something like “Have a good day.”
Next time say “have a wonderful day”.

9) Take the advanced vocabulary you are trying to
impart to your child and write them on cards along with relevant images. Here
you can use the Pocket Learner system.

10) During snack time, introduce foods with
interesting names and have the child sample them. Where possible let the child help you make
them at home. For example, bake a cake ensuring
that you point out the ingredients – flour, raisins, eggs, cherries, etc.

11) With
you child use play dough or other pliable materials to form shapes of items that
illustrate their individual meanings.

12) Use
movement to help your child learn new words.
For example: rocking, coughing,
cooking, dancing. I often say to my
little girl – “Today is Saturday, where are we going today? If she doesn’t know I would move my arms as if
in water and she would say “Swimming”. We’ll
then go off to the swimming pool.

Please bear in mind that all
children learn differently and at different pace. It is up to the
parent/teacher/carer/facilitator to make a determination of the level of
vocabulary that would be appropriate to the child. You should, however, not
make the assumption that the child cannot learn at a higher level, always aim
high and adjust as necessary. When at
the age of seven my little girl came home talking about triangle, square and
circle I was rather surprised. I did not
imagine that she could at that point appreciate such abstract concepts but clearly
she did. I was then able to develop
games to show her items in the home that had those shapes and thus help her to
make sense of it all.