How to Boost Your Child’s Vocabulary

How to Boost Vocab

We know that every child develops in his or her own unique way and may or may not follow the developmental milestones outlined in books. However, something that is always helpful for every child is giving them opportunities to grow, explore, and allow their minds to expand so they can ask questions and learn. Here are some simple tips for helping your child build his or her vocabulary in a stress-free and positive way.

Ask your child questions

Have fun simply talking to or with your child. Research demonstrates that frequent communication with infants and toddlers is directly related to their speech development. According to Doctors Marianella Casasola and Kimberly Kopoko of Cornell University,”research demonstrates that frequent communication with infants and toddlers is directly related to the amount of words babies learn.” (1)  So, ask your child questions even if they cannot respond yet or cannot respond  in complete sentences– they will before you know it!  Ask simple questions, silly questions, questions that stretch their minds. Make the time you spend together enjoyable for them and for you. Get your child excited about articulating their thoughts and asking you questions in return. It is something that becomes so natural that you may not realize how much your child is absorbing.


Encourage a language-rich environment

Give age-appropriate explanations to your child by describing greater and more complex concepts, but without making it overly simple. “Learning the meanings of new words is an essential component of early reading development” (2) Immerse your child in conversational themes that stretch their mind and take the time to explain the meanings of new words if they acquire. According to Hayes and Ahrens,”children’s vocabulary can be greatly enhanced by talking and reading with parents. In fact, the vocabulary of the average children’s book is greater than that found on prime-time television” (3)

Something as simple as letting your child help you while making a meal, planting a garden, or cleaning the house can immensely help their vocabulary.


Exposure to literature

Reading books is perhaps the most versatile form of language exposure. This cannot be stressed enough throughout the body of research on childhood cognitive and language development studies. Perhaps one of the greatest ways to help introduce a wide variety of words, subjects, concepts, situations and questions is to read with your children. “While it is generally agreed that most children’s vocabulary growth occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than direct instruction we now realize it is reading volume, rather than oral language, that has the primary source of their differences in vocabularies.” (4)


Encourage Pretend Play

Imaginative play has so many benefits for children, one of which is the development of language. Dr. Scott Kaufman says “actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and  adjectives.” (5) Thus, imaginative play increases the range of their vocabulary and the subjects to which they are exposed. So by playing “zookeeper” or “market”  or another mode of make-believe with your child, you are helping  develop not only their relational and social skills, but their language skills as well!

For more information on imaginative play, check out our post on The Importance of Pretend Play

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Introduce the Arts

The arts are an incredible way to bring language to life. Singing, dancing, attending plays, and the theatre in general, are all ways to introduce new vocabulary to your child. Cultivate a rich lexicon while also cultivating a love for art and culture. According to the Council of Chief State Schol Officers, “parents can use the arts to help develop early language skills, from the first lullaby to dramatization of a favorite story” and, “music and other language-rich creative arts can stimulate a young child’s language and literacy development through one-on-one interaction with a caring adult.”(3) 

Offer Constructive Criticism

Instead of correcting your child for mispronouncing a word, or not using the correct tense, use the correct word in a positive sentence back to them so they hear it said correctly, while keeping them gracefully clear of feeling badly for making a mistake.

For example:

Child: “Look! Sara see kitty!”

Parent: “How observant, Sara! Sara sees the kitty. And actually, that’s an opossum, but it certainly looks like an unhappy kitty doesn’t it? ”


Child: “Me sleep well. John bed!”

Parent: “Oh, John, that is wonderful you slept well in your own bed! I slept well, too!”

Patience with yourself and your child is very important while he or she is in the midst of really becoming a more developed speaker. Also, remember to keep a baby book handy to record the adorable and sometimes very funny efforts of your child as they expand their vocabulary so they can share those memories with you later.

If you are interested in fostering stronger reading habits with your child check out this post on 5 Effective Reading Strategies for Kindergartners.







Photo Credits: Our Three Peas, The Art of Making a Baby, Dreams to Do

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Kirsten is a military wife by day, an artist by night, and an around-the-clock-mommy to her (almost) two year old daughter and a son due in the Fall. She loves to travel and is always dreaming of her next adventure. Her interests include everything from extreme sports like skydiving and rock climbing to languages and studying philosophy. As a Californian now living in South Dakota, there is no taking that golden sunshine out of this California Girl.

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