practical ways to build your child’s vocabulary

Anyone who talks to my children will quickly pick up on two things: 1) they love to talk 2) they have huge vocabularies. Everyone comments on the words my boys use: pediatricians, preschool teachers, my OB (and his nurse), strangers… Once we were at an open play, and the leader asked if anyone knew the meaning of enormous. My 4 year old quickly answered, “Gigantic!” We have experiences like this almost daily, and my 2 year old chatters away as well.

So how did we do it? I think that a healthy dose of genetics is partly responsible; language skills have always come naturally to me. I have also worked really hard to cultivate their vocabularies. Here’s how:

Read, read and read some more! I’ve said it before and will probably say it 100 more times, it is never too early to start reading to your kids. Reading helps children learn the natural rhythm of language (pausing at commas, pitching your voice up when asking a question, etc). It also helps introduce children to new words. Have you ever noticed that you tend to use the same expressions and words over and over? Reading to your children helps expose them to words and phrases that you may not use often. Just be sure to explain the new vocabulary or it will not be nearly as effective.

Talk to your kids like they are adults. I am absolutely guilty of using baby talk with my kids. I just can’t help myself! I see those chubby little baby feet and words like “tootsies” and “feetsies” just come spilling out. I am also guilty of not using pronouns. I am notorious for saying, “Mama loves you,” instead of “I love you.” I talk to my boys with baby talk because I’m a mom, and I can, but for the most part, I try to use full sentences, proper terms, and pronouns, especially when I am explaining something to them or when we are having a serious conversation.

I also don’t dumb down my speech when talking to the boys. I talk to them just as I would talk to an adult, minus the occasional swear word (yep, I am one of those I-Love-Jesus-But-I-Cuss-A Little people).

Don’t be afraid to use advanced vocabulary. Be sure to watch for cues from your child to see if he or she understood the new word or phrase you used. Watch for  a confused look and pay attention to follow up conversation. When I know I am using a new word with the boys, I ask them to repeat it and help them with pronunciation if needed. I then ask if they know what it means and ask for a definition if they tell me they do. I like to know if they picked up on context clues. Also kids tend to say that they know something or can do something, even if they can’t. I know that isn’t news to all of you parents out there.

You can introduce basically any word to even young kids as long as you use simple and familiar terms to define it. Don’t be afraid to use the word “fantastic.” Just define it using words they already know, such as “really great.”

Gently correct your children. Making mistakes can be an extremely effective way to learn. When your child makes a mistake, repeat the sentence back using the correct pronunciation or terms. For example, if your child says, “I runned,” say to them “You ran?” and enunciate ran. Follow up with some more conversation, emphasizing the correct use of ran. You can use the same technique to help with pronunciation.

Have you taken any of these steps with your kids? Do you have other tips that have worked? Share them below!


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