Building a Young Child's Vocabulary

January 9th is National Word Nerd Day! As official 'word nerds' ourselves, we want to celebrate by talking about fun and interesting ways to build your child's vocabulary.

Children are constantly learning about the world around them by observing and absorbing what they experience, see, and hear. Building a strong vocabulary is an integral part of a young child's development, and they learn a lot about words from the adults around them.

Talking to and reading with your child are two terrific ways to help them learn, absorb, and understand new words. Conversations and questions about interesting words ("The book says, 'The dog bounded up the street', now look at the picture! How do you think the dog went up the street?") are fun and accessible ways to integrate new words into everyday conversations.

Ways to Grow Your Child's Vocabulary

Slow and Steady: Be selective about which words you choose to talk about — talking about every new word could make reading seem like a chore.

Words to explore early on with your child are ones that are commonly found in conversations, but are less common in books. University of Michigan Education Professor Nell Duke calls this the "Goldilocks Principle" - not too many words at a time and not too few!

Visualize New Words: Help your child picture what new words mean. For nouns, show your child a picture of it online, in a book, or magazine. If the word is an adjective, find things that can be described using the word. For example, if you come across the word “cuddly,” point out the softness of a stuffed animal. Ask your child to come up with other ways to describe the stuffed animal as well. A fun way to learn new verbs is to act them out together!

Read Daily: Books are the best way to expose kids to a richer vocabulary. Even with kids who are too young to read themselves, reading to them as frequently as possible contributes a lot to a child's budding vocabulary.

If you come to an unfamiliar word while reading, give your child a brief kid-friendly definition and continue reading. Don't pause and talk about whether or not your child knows the word, simply provide the definition and move on so reading stays fun and engaging. You can always go back through the book when you finish reading the story and talk more about the new word and its meaning. 

Explore the New Words Around You: Help your child build a bigger vocabulary by going new places and exposing different ideas. Visit your local aquarium, zoo, or museum and ask your child describe new objects and experiences.

When stuck on describing something new, prompt your child to use context clues. Ask questions to challenge them even more. Instead of telling them what something is, ask what sound does it make? or what does it eat? Make everyday errands more fun by challenging each other to learn new words along the way.

See It, Say It, Write It: In order to fully learn a new vocabulary word, your child needs to be able to read it, say it, and write it. When you come across an unfamiliar word while reading, explain to your young one how to pronounce it and then sound it through together. Similarly, if your child hears a new word during the course of conversation that is unfamiliar, writing it down and spelling it out helps your child grow their vocabulary and build reading skills!

What are some of the way you share new words with your child? Share them in the comments!

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