Developing your child’s vocabulary

  • There is solid evidence to show that if your child has a small vocabulary and only speaks in short sentences when they are 4 years old, there is a risk that they will fall behind at school. But don’t allow this to cause anxiety, because there are lots of things you can do at home to help to develop your child’s talking.
  • Researchers tell us that 6-year-olds have an average vocabulary of 14,000 words. This means that children between 18 months and 6 years need to be learning 8 new words a day!
  • If your child goes to an Early Years setting, then 5 of these words may be taught there … so what 3 words have you taught your child today?
  • There are lots of things you can do with your child at home to help them learn and use new words. It’s not necessary to work your way through word lists.
  • little child washing up


    Top Tips for developing vocabulary

    a) Start from your child’s interests and talk about what they are doing or looking at.

    b) Keep your language simple. Name what your child is playing with (e.g. ‘ball’), talk about the action (‘throwing’), describe the object (‘bouncy’). Make sure you don’t just focus on the names of things (nouns). Use action words (verbs) and describing words (adjectives) too.

    c) Help your child to sort objects into categories. This can be done easily while tidying or helping sort the washing, for example. Put all the trains and pieces of track in one box, the doll’s house furniture into the right rooms of the doll’s house, or your child’s clothes in the right drawers.

    d) Play games like hide and seek where you can emphasise position words: ‘I’ll give you a clue, it’s behind the box’.

    e) Create a ‘treasure box’. Find an old box and decorate it. Hide objects in it and ask your child to pick one out and see if they can tell you what it is. Can they describe it as well, or tell you what you do with it?

    f) Provide your child with opportunities to use new words by giving choices. Instead of saying, ‘Do you want a banana?’ ask them, ‘Do you want a banana or a yoghurt?’. If they point, then model, ‘You want a yoghurt’ so that they hear the word. Reward any attempt to repeat the word after you, but don’t ask them to copy you.

    g) Keep repeating the words you want your child to focus on. You will get bored before they do! Children need to hear a new word lots of times before they learn it properly, so keep saying the word you want them to learn. They may try to copy you and will often take a few attempts to get it right. This is to be encouraged, so you copy them back!

    h) Consider the activities your child engages in throughout the day at home, e.g. eating, bath time, reading books, playing with toys inside the home and outside in the garden or at the park. Choose one of these activities each day and plan 5 words you want your child to learn. Include two naming words (nouns), one action word (verb) and two describing words (adjectives) in each set. The words you might choose to use when chatting to your child in the bath or shower could be: ‘splash’ (verb), ‘cup’ (noun), ‘bowl’ (noun), ‘blue’ (adjective), ‘wet’ (adjective). Your setting may have some words that they want you to use with your child, so make sure you speak with them about this too.

    small child being shown some fruit


    Web links

    Check out these pages to find lots more information and great ideas.

  • Let’s get moving with action words
  • Play ideas to encourage pre-schoolers with talking
  • Build your child’s vocabulary
  • The Fundamental Building Blocks of Speech and Language

  • man and boy looking at some beans

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    Last modified: Friday, 15 May 2020, 2:25 PM