October 16th is Dictionary Day. It was designated as Dictionary Day because it is the birthday of Noah Webster, who you may recognize as the man who gave us Webster’s Dictionary. It is to Noah Webster that we owe the standardized American spellings of words that we’re familiar with (for example “color” as opposed to “colour”). Webster believed that all Americans needed to learn to spell words the same way, using American spellings, and to that end he first wrote a children’s reading textbook, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, that was used in schools for about one hundred years. He followed that up with the dictionary. It took him 27 years to complete that dictionary, and in it he included over 70,000 words with definitions and Americanized spellings. America owes Noah Webster quite a bit for formalizing its language in this way.
But, you may be wondering, what on earth could anybody do to celebrate Dictionary Day? Reading a dictionary certainly doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. What else is there? It helps if you think not of the book itself, but what the book contains. The dictionary contains language, our language, in its entirety. Language is what allows us to communicate. Language and communication certainly seem like ideas worth celebrating. With that in mind, here are a few little activities you and your kids can do with the help of a dictionary, in celebration of language, communication, and Noah Webster.
- Improve your vocabulary. Help your kids set a goal. On Dictionary Day, they will learn a new word. Or two. Or however many they can handle. Look through the dictionary, write down the chosen words and their definitions so that your child can read and memorize them. Then comes the fun part. For the rest of the day, have your child see how many times she can work the new words into sentences. You can even keep a scoreboard – extra points for using more than one new word in the same sentence.
- Create a Picture Dictionary. Let your child choose something he’s interested in; animals, cars, video games, any subject will do. Help him look up words related to the subject he’s interested in and include the words and their definitions in his own small dictionary project. Next to each word he chooses, have him include a picture, either hand drawn or cut out from a magazine. Before long, he’ll have his own handy reference book about his favorite subject.
- Crosswords. Crossword puzzles are a great example of a way that we might use a dictionary for entertainment purposes. If your child enjoys crossword puzzles, or if you think she might, Dictionary Day is a great day to get a fresh new book of crossword puzzles and get to solving.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s worth taking a little time on October 16th to celebrate words and language. Have a great Dictionary Day!