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Home Strategies for Promoting Vocabulary Development


Some General Tips on Building Vocabulary in Young Children

  • Read a book with your child and/or tell them a story! It's a great way to introduce them to new ideas, things, and concepts. Talk about the story when you're finished, and ask them if they understood what you read. You also can ask them to describe pictures, or to give you a summary of the story when you're finished reading.
  • Talk to your child! Just talking with your child gives them the chance to hear, use and practice new vocabulary words.  Ask your child to describe something they did today, or what happened at a friend's birthday party. Dinner time is a great opportunity to get the whole family involved in your child's vocabulary development.
  • Use some descriptive words around your child. Model them by describing things, then ask your child to describe things for you. This is great for helping them to learn about adjectives. Try to use a variety of words!
  • Take your child with you on errands such as shopping trips and going to the post office, if possible. You may not realize it but these are great opportunities to point out new vocabulary words to your child!
  • When introducing new vocabulary words to children, try to repeat the word at least several times, and to use it in different contexts. [add more explanation, and check sources]
  • When introducing a new word, try using it in sentences with other words that the child already knows, before combing it with other new words. This way, they get a chance to hear the new word in a familiar context, which will help them to focus on acquiring it.
    • For example: "Look, a truck! It's a big truck. It's a yellow truck!"
  • You can help your child learn to describe emotions by labeling their emotions. For example, if the child is happy (or sad, or mad, or tired), you can say "You're feeling happy!". (Bergen, p.19).
  • Play rhyming games with your child. You can say a word your child knows then ask them if they can think of something that rhymes with it.
    • For example: "Cat! Can we think of a word that rhymes with cat? How about mat? Or rat!"
  • Does your family speak more than one language? You can use these tips in any language you like! Please also see our Learning Two Languages section of this website.

Age-Specific Vocabulary Teaching Tips

Birth to 2 Years:

  • Teach your baby repetitive games, such as "peek-a-boo" and "I'm gonna get you!". Learning to take turns in conversation is a very important part of language development, and gives them stronger language skills. This will help their vocabulary when they are old enough to start asking, "what's that?".
  • Expand on single words your baby uses. For example: "Here's kitty. Nice kitty! Kitty is eating."
  • Point out and name different colors to your baby
  • Read books to your child, or just describe the pictures in a book to them.
  • When bathing, feeding, or changing your baby's diaper, talk to him/her. Talk about what you're doing, where you are going today, and who you will see.


2 to 4 Years:

  • Repeat something your child says, then expand upon it. If they say "juice", you can say "Want juice? I have juice. I have orange juice. Do you want orange juice?"
  • Use photos of people and places and ask them to make up a story, or tell about something that happened with that person or at that place.
  • Expand vocabulary further by explaining what things do.
    • For example: "This is my ear. I can hear music, and voices, and birds singing."
  • Show children silly pictures, such as a dog driving a car.  Ask them to describe what is "wrong" with the picture, and why.


4 to 6 Years:

  • Try to give your child your full attention when they start a conversation. This can be challenging if you are very busy, but if you can make the time to listen to them it can be very beneficial for vocabulary and language development.
  • Play a word game where you give your child clues and they guess what you are describing.
    • For example:  "We use it to keep our food cold (refrigerator)."
  • Ask your child to give you directions for how to do certain activities, such as building a tower of blocks.


Here is a video of a school teacher talking about her ideas for vocabulary development activities that you can do at home!


Some More Links for Further Exploration


Other Sources:

Bergen, D., Reid, R., and Torelli, L. (2009.) Educating and Caring for Very Young Children. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press

Owens, R. (2008). Language Development. Boston, M.A.: Pearson Education, Inc.

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