How to Develop Your Child’s Vocabulary

Here are some things you can start doing today that will help your child to develop their vocabulary as your child grows. Vocabulary development is foundational to future literacy skills including reading and writing. Below you will find practical things you can do with your baby, toddler and pre schooler to develop your child’s vocabulary as they develop.


Develop your Babies Vocabulary

Babies learn language by listening and watching! Have you ever thought your baby knows more than they let on! Well they take it all in! Here are some of the best things you can do to develop your child’s vocabulary.

  • Talk to your child all the time
  • No baby talk please! This can be a tough suggestion to take but it is necessary for speech development. Allowing your child to learn correct punctuation and learn new words is essential to their vocabulary development.
  • Give a running commentary of what you are doing – now I am placing the spaghetti in the pot etc…..
  • Read to your child every day – quality literature is imperative. Don’t worry if you read the same book over and over. Quality language is very important.
  • Organise your play so it is rich and inspired. Have a plan for play so you can rotate toys, books and learning experiences.
  • Organise some wonderful outings. For example if the week you are doing is farm animals then visit the farm and remember to talk the whole time you are there. You may feel a little silly but you want your child to develop hundred of words. New words introduced daily will help your child to develop their growing vocabulary.
  • Listen to audio books – quality literature. Here are some excellent audio books for baby that you can listen to.
  • Sing sing sing! Children learn so many new words through singing. They also begin to learn about rhyme as well as developing their memories. learning new vocabulary can be fun!

Develop your Toddlers Vocabulary

The toddler years are a period of your child’s development where you will notice a huge explosion in their vocabulary. By the time your child turns two they should have a vocabulary of about 20 – 200 words (typical 2 year olds). It is important to note here you may not understand all of them. 3 Year olds may know up to 1000 words.

  • Pronunciation at this stage of speech is important. When you child speaks and you know the word they are trying to say then say the whole word correctly.
  • Modelling grammar should also be intentional on your part. As a parent when you child says, ” Mamma, me apple” It is important to say Mumma, please can I have the apple. Asking your child to repeat these simple sentences will further progress their speech development.
  • Praise your child’s effort when they speak. “I love the way you are learning new words…”
  • Provide more information so you are developing their understanding. For example ” Here is your banana, it is squishy, yellow and grows on trees”.
  • When you notice your child is interested in something go with their interests. For example when your child is interested in farm animals-  introduce sounds, what they produce, where they live, and so on.
  • Following on from their interests pick up on play experiences that you can simply introduce in your home. For example your child shows an interest in farm animals – get a cardboard box and set it up as a barn, add some plastic animals and demonstrate some play. Practice pouring “milk” into containers. Bake some bread like “The Little Red Hen”. These are simple to do play experiences that will encourage lots of talking and in turn develop your child’s growing vocabulary.
  • Be mindful of adding simple play experiences that relate to interests that your child may show.
  • If you haven’t already start to visit your local regularly and get quality early childhood focused litetrature. These visits will help to show your children that you value reading and books.
  • Model reading to your toddler. It is important that your toddler sees Mum and Dad regularly reading.
  • Ask great questions! Toddlers are so curious and their eyes light up at the world around them. Ask some open ended questions that require some thinking and explanation on their part. I wonder questions are great! ” I wonder why the birds are flying int he sky”
  • Provide explanation by introducing basic concepts such as colour, number, size and shape.
  • Develop your child’s phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and identify the different sounds that make up spoken words.
  • Play on the telephone. Have a pretend phone that you speak on and introduce this phone into daily play. Such a cute thing to watch!
  • Watch your ten weekly vocabulary words a few times a week in the Members Area.

Develop Your Pre Schoolers Vocabulary

As a kindy teacher I notice children coming into Kindy with significant differences in their vocabularies. This is mainly due to the age of the child, differences in literacy experiences and exposure in the pre school years. Children have varying skills, exposure and experiences. Children who do well in reading often fare greater vocabularies that other children who do not. Vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to reading proficiency and ultimately school achievement.  So with this in mind there are a number of things you can do in order to develop your preschooler’s vocabulary and speech development.

Communicating the below strategies to families within pre schooler settings will help provide support to parents regarding what they can do at home. Send this information home in newsletters and weekly communication letters.

Factors to help Vocabulary Development in Preschoolers Classrooms

  • Materials and an environment that encourage children to communicate must be accessible to all children.
  • Activities need to be individualized for children speaking different languages and children who require alternative communication methods.
  • Frequent reading of books in class & home
  • Books in the primary language
  • Rereading of books appropriate to the developmental level of the child at home and school
  • Use of pictures, props, and gestures to enhance the meaning
  • Books coordinated with ongoing classroom activities
  • Conversations that are rich with content (Dickenson 2001)
  • Extended conversation on a single topic during play time, meal time, outdoor time, during read alouds and shared reading.
  •  Extend and deepen topics over multiple turns
  • Encourage children to listen to each other
  • Suggest strategies to families that are used in the classroom

Play Experiences to Develop Preschooler’s Vocabulary

Play is absolutely vital in helping preschoolers develop their vocabulary. The following suggestions will encourage meaningful conversations.

  • Play telephones
  • Puppets
  • Flannel board stories
  • Dolls and other dramatic play props Tape Recorders with Microphones Interactive books
  • Other multi-sensory experiences

Further thoughts  for Educators…

The significance of vocabulary (oral language) has often been underestimated because it is not a prerequisite for first or second grade reading success. It is not until reading texts involve age-normal vocabulary demands that early (kindergarten or pre- kindergarten) vocabulary becomes a significant predictor of reading comprehension.  Biemiller (2005)

Educators must “target differences in early literacy skills and experiences at the outset of formal schooling before reading difficulties become entrenched and intractable.” Coyne, Simmons & Kame’enui (2004)

Children have to “catch up” at above-average rates when vocabulary limitations exist. Biemiller (2001)

Active participation and engagement can increase the likelihood that preschoolers would learn more vocabulary. Coyne, Simmons & Kame’enui (2004)

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