10 Ways to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary

Vocabulary development is a critical component in your child’s ability to interact with the world around them.  Children need the right words to effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas to others.  Strong vocabulary development also impacts listening and reading comprehension.  The more vocabulary words your child knows, the more likely they will comprehend what they are hearing or reading.  So how can parents help?

Here are 10 ways to help build your child’s vocabulary.

1. Create language-rich environments to encourage new vocabulary.  This might include a trip to the zoo, a seasonal craft, or a fun picture-book.  Introduce age-appropriate vocabulary to your child through a fun and memorable experience.
2. Use kid-friendly terms to explain new words.  For example, if you are boy with yellow ballteaching your child what  “zebra” means, avoid a dictionary definition such as: a horse-like African mammal of the genus Equus .  Instead, try a simple explanation: a zebra is an animal. It looks like a horse.  Zebras have black and white stripes.
3. Encourage your child to brainstorm their own examples of new vocabulary words.  For example, if the new word is “little”, you might encourage your child by saying “Can you think of a little animal?”
4. Practice sorting new vocabulary.  Encourage your child to describe, sort and categorize vocabulary based on various features.  You might think of “3 cold things”, “3 animals” or “3 things that take you places.”
5. Think of synonyms and antonyms.  Encourage your child to think of substitute words (e.g. “can you think of another word for enormous?… big!”) or opposite words (e.g. “What is the opposite of hot?… cold!”).
6. Give your child opportunities to practice their new vocabulary words.  If you recently enjoyed an outing at the zoo, you might print out digital pictures from the trip.  Throughout the following week, enjoy looking at the pictures with your child and remembering what animals you saw.  You might also read a picture-book about animals or zoos (“What is this animal called?” or “Can you find a tiger in this picture?”).
7. Introduce new vocabulary words ahead of time.  Holidays, seasons, and special outings are all excellent occasions to introduce new words.  For example, as Fall approaches you might choose 10 new words about Fall (e.g. pumpkin, Autumn, cool, leaves, apples, jacket, etc).  Plan a fun craft that incorporates those new words.  You might make play-doh shapes using vocabulary words, draw new words with sidewalk chalk, or search for words in a picture book or magazine.
8. Tap into other senses.  Children learn best when information is presented through multiple senses (e.g. touch, sight, sound, smell).  To tap into the various, you might have your child stomp to each syllable of new vocabulary words (el-a-phant), draw a picture of the word, or act out the meaning.
9. Encourage older kids to use strategies to remember new vocabulary.  They might keep a “vocabulary flashcard box” that includes challenging words from chapter-books, their school curriculum, or new concepts encountered in their environment.  Encourage your child to define vocabulary in their own words, and draw a picture to represent it.  You might also brainstorm root words or word derivations (e.g. run, running).
10. Avoid vocabulary over-load.  Try not to teach too many new words at one time.  For example, if you are reading a book with your child, avoid explaining every unfamiliar vocabulary word.  Instead, just stick with a few important words.   As much as possible, learning should be motivating and stimulate curiosity.   Follow your child’s lead, and explore concepts or words that they find interesting.  Look for cues that they might feel overwhelmed or frustrated.