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Building Vocabulary

Dear Elizabeth,
My 3-year-old granddaughter is verbal but doesn’t have a lot of words to describe things. How can I help her learn new words?
Marcia De La Rosa
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Introduce new experiences, materials & ideas
  • Use descriptive vocabulary when talking & playing
  • Encourage your child to elaborate & use other descriptive words
  • Read & discuss the meanings of words in the books
Expert Advice
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Language & literacy specialist
Use Descriptive Language
It’s important for adults to elaborate on the simple words that children begin uttering; this is a way to expand young children’s vocabulary. It helps them connect the words to what they already may be saying, and to reinforce their increasingly growing vocabulary.

New Experiences
It’s important to introduce kids to new experiences as a way of building vocabulary. Through the experiences—visual, tactile, auditory, children will make these connections as they hear new words tied to what they experience. Adults reinforce their use of new words through a variety of verbal and non-verbal means.

Toys and other objects kids commonly have are great ways to help them identify and name things in their environment – not just the play materials, but also everything they see and come into contact with. Simple conversations, storytelling and describing daily routines, and oral word games are also great ways to build vocabulary.

Encouraging Kids to Talk
Encouraging kids to talk more does not have to be too complicated. Kids become encouraged by their care-providers, parents, peers, siblings and relatives with something as simple as a nod or a smile to show that you are happy that they are using new words. Also, when those around young children provide them with experiences, expanded language, books, educational videos or television, these are also ways that children become encouraged and motivated to talk more.

It’s a good idea to name actual objects, because we are the model that young children want to emulate. As they grow older, using expanded language, complete sentences and asking preschoolers to explain their own language are all important ways to encourage children. Encouraging children in their vocabulary and language development also sends the message that the adults in their environment really care about them, because we also have to listen to them very carefully. This listening also helps us understand them better when they are frustrated during times when they don’t yet have the actual word for the object, thought or idea they are trying to get across.

Reading is an excellent way to help children expand their vocabulary. Simple books, picture dictionaries for young children, nursery rhymes and songs are great ways for children to build upon the words that they are exposed to beyond their everyday environment.

Future Impact
Young children’s vocabulary absolutely affects their overall progress in school once they are older. By the age of 5, a child may know up to 9,000 words. This happens as a result of being read to, spoken to, listened to and responded to in the early childhood years. It’s important to make sure that we are providing young children with opportunities to grow their own personal vocabularies so that they can come to school ready and excited to learn how to read!
Child Care Provider Comments
David Cooley
David Cooley
Father of one daughter
We always encourage my daughter to describe what she’s doing. I ask her, “How was your day at school?” I always make eye contact with her. I ask her to use her big vocabulary. We encourage her to include details. It’s working out really well. We want her to participate more in conversation. Other people are beginning to notice the change in her vocabulary. Even the teachers are seeing an improvement, as well as her classmates. She’s now using three and four word sentences.
Janis Sanders
Janis Sanders
Grandmother of four
To encourage my grandchildren’s verbal skills, I get them to use their descriptive words while we read. I introduce colors and ask them to describe things better. I often have the children make up their own stories as we flip through the pages. This really gets the kids involved in the story and they get really excited. I also ask them open-ended questions while I read to them. We look at the picture and try to engage them by having them point out what they see. It sparks conversation.
Marianella Hickery
Marianella Hickery
Child care provider for 20 years
Lunch time is the best time for children to open up and express themselves. To encourage kids’ vocabulary, I’ll sit at the table with them and just talk to them. We talk about the food they are eating and how it smells. Circle time is another great time to get the children to talk. This is the time where they can share their feelings and experiences.

Treasure Bottles Featured Activity:
Treasure Bottles
Building Vocabulary Featured Video:
Building Vocabulary
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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