Mar
4
2010

Building Your Child’s Vocabulary

Whether it be in the mall, on the beach, or on the sidewalk, I’m thrilled whenever I hear parents interacting and engaging their babies and toddlers in conversation. Even if children can’t talk back, speaking to them from the moment they pop out into the world (some say even before that) will enhance their vocabulary and ability to learn.

I grow concerned when I see parents simply pushing a stroller and not engaging their child. Children can understand vocabulary before they can verbalize it. When you have a baby, your communication with him or her might include simply describing what you are doing. With a toddler, you might seek more interaction, like asking questions, or describing your surroundings, situation or plans together. You might simply point to objects or actions and ask what they are called. You could provide names for new objects and actions, and reinforce those that may have been recently learned. When your child asks question after question, after question, after question … even if it borders on annoyance, be patient and answer him. If you’re reading a book with an older child, stop and discuss and explain the meaning of unknown words.

The more you talk to your child, the faster his or her vocabulary will grow. The larger a vocabulary a child has when he or she enters school, the more able the child will be to decode and comprehend what is being read and said during class. If the teacher reads a story about someone, making haste to get away, the meaning will be lost on the child that doesn’t know what that means, and doesn’t have the experience to think to ask what it means.

I took a flight a few weeks ago and there was a very young mom sitting behind us with her daughter. This mother spent the entire flight reading, talking, and explaining words to her eighteen month old. I thought it was fantastic. I felt excited for this child who was going to be one up on many of the other children entering school. She would start her formal education with a rich vocabulary, a wealth of words and a history of being a successful learner. I imagined that one day this little girl might be a great author or statesman. It didn’t hurt one bit either, that she didn’t cry once during the flight.

Whether it be in the mall, on the beach, or on the sidewalk, I’m thrilled whenever I hear parents interacting and engaging their babies and toddlers in conversation. Even if children can’t talk back, speaking to them from the moment they pop out into the world (some say even before that) will enhance their vocabulary and ability to learn.

I grow concerned when I see parents simply pushing a stroller and not engaging their child. Children can understand vocabulary before they can verbalize it. When you have a baby, your communication with him or her might include simply describing what you are doing. With a toddler, you might seek more interaction, like asking questions, or describing your surroundings, situation or plans together. You might simply point to objects or actions and ask what they are called. You could provide names for new objects and actions, and reinforce those that may have been recently learned. When your child asks question after question, after question, after question … even if it borders on annoyance, be patient and answer him. If you’re reading a book with an older child, stop and discuss and explain the meaning of unknown words.

The more you talk to your child, the faster his or her vocabulary will grow. The larger a vocabulary a child has when he or she enters school, the more able the child will be to decode and comprehend what is being read and said during class. If the teacher reads a story about someone, making haste to get away, the meaning will be lost on the child that doesn’t know what that means, and doesn’t have the experience to think to ask what it means.

I took a flight a few weeks ago and there was a very young mom sitting behind us with her daughter. This mother spent the entire flight reading, talking, and explaining words to her eighteen month old. I thought it was fantastic. I felt excited for this child who was going to be one up on many of the other children entering school. She would start her formal education with a rich vocabulary, a wealth of words and a history of being a successful learner. I imagined that one day this little girl might be a great author or statesman. It didn’t hurt one bit either, that she didn’t cry once during the flight.

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10 Comments + Add Comment

  • Great post. I agree and am constantly talking to my 9 month old. I explain what I am doing, count things, point things out and even try to hold mini conversations with him! I feel like he is starting to “get” it and look forward to the days he can talk back.

  • Bravo!

    This is so positive and so true.

    Love your great tips.

    Read Aloud Dad

  • Great post, Maggie! I am a firm believer in engaging your children as often as you can. I think much of the frustration young children express in tantrums is because they have so much to communicate but can’t. The earlier they can participate in a meaningful back-and-forth, the less time they spend frustrated and the more time spent playing and learning!

  • Great post on such an important topic! “The larger a vocabulary a child has when he or she enters school, the more able the child will be to decode and comprehend what is being read and said during class.” So true! A major factor in the achievement gap is the disparity between social classes when it comes to how many words children are exposed to before they enter school in kindergarten.

    Another simple trick that we can use to help young children build vocabulary is to name an object and then categorize it. When taking a walk, instead of pointing to a red-headed woodpecker and saying “Look at the pretty bird.” If we know the specific name of the bird, say, “Look at the red headed woodpecker! Isn’t it a pretty bird?” It’s a great trick for helping young minds organize their vocabulary as they are exposed to new words.

  • Many good points. When my son was learning to talk, so often he would ask “What’s the name of that.” He was about 18 months old and it was quite funny to be having these conversations with a “baby”.

  • Howdy! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!

  • I too love hearing parents talking in proper adult language to their children. I don’t usually have any of those kids showing up in my literacy small groups. I do see them thinking outside the box and making great comments in the regular classroom. Hurray for parents that spend time talking TO their children!

  • You are so right, we spoke all the time to our son and still do so his vocabulary, spelling and school work are great! We also used to encourage him to say big words from an early age and I am sure this has had a positive effect. I remember my husband, while gardening when my son was quite small, encouraging him to say the word ‘secateurs’. Great post!

  • So true! What a great post. This is the way I have tried to raise my children. When my daughter would cry as a baby, I would walk her around the house and point to objects (anything from a painting on the wall to a dish in the cupboard) and say the name of the objects in a soothing way. It soothed her. She became very articulate at a young age and could read confidently at four. My son was a little different…he was colicky and hated the word game, hated being read to…but still my husband and I spoke to him and tried to engage him as much as possible. And now that he is five he is constantly surprising us with the things he says–proving that he was listening all along, even when we thought he wasn’t. I wish more parents would take advantage of this simple way to not only give their children the gift of language, but also nurture them through sincere attention and love.
    Thanks for this!
    (You might enjoy my post on finding good children’s literature for your family:
    http://amberjunestudios.blogspot.com/2012/02/even-more-book-love.html)

  • I agree with your post. A couple of thoughts in reaction to it.
    One is that a child usually faces outward in a stoller (as opposed to a pram), which makes it harder to engage while in motion. Frequent stops are great if you’re not in a hurry, but often we are!
    Another is that many words and phrases (one example being ‘making haste’) are usually found only in books, so we can’t over-estimate the importance of reading to very young children and then making links between the book phrases and how we usually say the same thing in everyday life, e.g., “We’d better hurry. Do you remember in the book we read, X said ‘Let’s make haste’? That’s another way of saying ‘Let’s hurry’. ” In my experiences, the second stage in the process (i.e., making the link) is often omitted.

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