Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Growing a Child’s Vocabulary

By: Al Stewart

Communication is very important in all aspects of our lives. It is the foundation for establishing relationships, learning skills and/or trades, and even for leisure activities. There are many forms of communication including reading, writing, speaking, body language, facial expressions, graphic representations, and many more. But what is interesting is that communication begins at birth – on day one of our lives.

Babies learn how to communicate by watching faces, mouths and listening to the tones of voices around them. They then learn to “speak” through their cries. Moms can tell what kind of cry it is – a hunger cry, or the time for a diaper change cry, or even the, “I just want attention” cry. How a mom responds to the cry will support or validate the baby’s communication. But, a major goal for infants and toddlers is to learn how to communicate with words.

The majority of a baby’s early communication includes introducing them to nouns first, then verbs and adjectives. We tell them who people are – mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, etc. Then we focus on their body parts. These are modeled in songsfinger plays, and nursery rhymes that we sing/say to them: peek-a-boo, patty-cake, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and more. 

The words we use to describe are also important in developing a strong vocabulary. One of the ways we know young children are learning and growing their vocabulary is through their senses. Try to make a list of descriptive words related to each one of the senses and be intentional about using as many of them as you can throughout the week with your child:
  • Discuss how food tastes; don’t just say the beans taste good but choose to use words like delicious, salty or savory (an under-used, but very descriptive, word). The dessert is sweet, chocolaty, creamy, or yummy. Think of some other words that may be used to describe taste, such as bitter, sour, tart, spicy, cold, and nutty.
  • What about sounds? What sounds can you hear in your backyard? What about at the zoo? Some sounds are loud, soft, musical, harsh, twangy, whistle-like, etc. Play a game with your child. What sounds might you hear at the circus or at the local park? Guess and then verify after you get there. Sounds are all around us.
  • What about textures? Things are soft, hard, rough, bumpy, scratchy, sticky, or prickly. What are some of the textures you can describe in your home?
  • Words to describe smells are important. Often, a child’s favorite words is stinky, a word many young ones hear daily. Have fun with a “smells like” activity with your child using flowers, fruit, spices, etc.
A strong vocabulary, for a young child, is a critical element as a predictor for future learning, especially in reading. When a variety of words are used in describing vehicles, flowers, foods, clothes and other items, it also strengthens the children’s language skills. What do you do to strengthen your children’s vocabulary?

As you go through the week, there should be many opportunities to foster vocabulary and have real conversations using new words. Make sure children are given ample time to respond to statements made to them, to ask and answer questions, and to discuss things that are of interest to them. This can happen at home, in the supermarket, riding in the car, taking a walk down the street, and in the park. Language grows through real experiences and conversations so visit the library, zoo, a museum, and other local establishments on a regular basis to allow your child to have a wide variety of language experiences. These special trips will definitely build vocabulary, special memories, and family bonds.

About the Author: Al Stewart has work in the early childhood field for 42 plus years including the public school sector in Texas for 34 years as a teacher, early childhood special/general education specialist and consultant as well as Head Start. After he retired, he started his own consulting business, A. Stewart Consulting, and continued his passion for teaching by conducting training sessions for teachers in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and administration throughout the country.

31 comments :

  1. These are great tips. I definitely need to use more adjectives with my kiddo.

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    1. Agreed!! Adjectives can be super fun :)

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    1. Awe thank you :) We enjoy when you visit!!

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  3. I really need to amp up my baby's vocab skills. I never thought to use different adjectives. I'm going to try and be more attentive to the words I use.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Young Love Mommy

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    1. I feel like we use the same words all of the time. At least we get our point across!

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  4. I strengthen my kid's vocabulary by talking to them like people. Often times I hear mom's and caregivers speak baby talk but I think it is important to speak to them like people. The results are great.

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    1. That is fantastic! Sometimes parents and caregivers get stuck in the baby talk rut but I agree that talking to babies like adults is very helpful!!

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  5. What a great post! I talk to my 3 yr old and 20 month old like adults and often times forget I'm using big words. My 3 year old keeps asking why as I explain it. Agree, expanding our kids vocab is important in enriching their lives!

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    1. Has your 3 year old then used the word he/she learned while talking to you? They pick up everything we say!!

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  6. These are great tips! I talk to my youngest all the time, in both baby voice and in adult/grown up voice so she's getting exposure for both. We also read a lot.

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    1. Reading is great! It introduces new words that may not be in your day to day vocab!

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  7. Beyond fabulous tips!!! Need to work on this with my princess ;-) thanks for sharing ❤❤❤❤

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    1. Princesses relate to the colorful languages in fairy tales! Expand her vocal with things found in the castle ;)

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  8. These tips really do work. Currently doing them with my 18 month old.

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    1. That is wonderful!!! I am so glad they wok for you :)

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  9. These are wonderful tips! Thank you for sharing them.

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    1. You're welcome!!! Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. Great article an by the way.. LOVE your top "Choosy Kids" banner!

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    1. Thank you!! I would be more than happy to put you in touch with the girl who did it for us! Email me at christinecox0925@gmail.com

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  11. My youngest is a pacifier baby. Also, being the youngest of four is used to just pointing and getting what she wants. She understands what we're saying and she knows what words mean, but she has yet to try to talk much. I like these ideas a lot! I'm not concerned about her lack of interest in talking yet, but I love the idea of playing sound games with her or practicing different ways of describing things. Great suggestions and thank you!

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    1. Encourage her to use her words. You'll soon never get her to be quiet again!! :)

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  12. I definitely need to work on vocabulary. My daughter is starting to get better, but there are times when everything "hurts" but I think she needs to use a different word. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. That is a great example!! My little one says everything "hits" her but in reality the dog just licked her hahaha!!

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  13. I love this!! Great reminder for my with my daughter. I never though to ask about sounds, that is such a great idea!!

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    1. Thank you!!! I hope I hope it is helpful :)

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  14. As a certified teacher and mom to a 4 year old, I like your tips. Research shows how important teaching vocabulary is to early elementary age students... This reminds me of a big research study Vanderbilt is working on... http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2011/08/preschool-language-literacy/

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    1. Awesome!! I will def take a look at the study! Thanks for sharing :)

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  15. These are great tips. Pinning for later.

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  16. I love reading this blog! My daughter is speech delayed so any kinda tips to get a variety of NEW words out of a kiddo is beyond great info to us ;-)

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