Vocabulary Development in Young Children

Researchers have found that children from low-income families may start Kindergarten with 10,000 fewer words in their vocabularies than their classmates. Children with low vocabularies have been found to be at-risk of reading difficulties. Because of the large quantity of words children need to have in their vocabularies to be effective communicators, parents and teachers must work together to give children a good head start.

Here are some vocabulary activities that can be done at home or in a group setting:

  • Wide reading—read a wide variety of books to the child.
  • Deep reading— pre-select no more than 2 or 3 words to discuss with the child while reading the story.The words should be meaningful to the child.Try to use the word throughout the day and review in the future.
  • Play “I Spy”—my sons and I used to do this in the car; a great way to pass the time.
  • Name things for the child--not just nouns, don’t forget verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.“Wow, that is a really big tree; it is gigantic.”
  • Describe sensory activities—how does it feel?
  • Child explains pictures he/she draws—help the child with the proper vocabulary; don’t let him or her say “that thing”, name it.
  • Sorting and classifying activities—what characteristic did the child use in sorting the items?
  • Cooking activities—talk about what you are using and doing.
  • Nature walks—talk about what you see.
  • Poetry—provides condensed, concise language
  • Describe emotional vocabulary—how do you feel?
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Don’t use baby language; stretch vocabulary with big words when possible and appropriate; explain the words you use.

Working together, parents and teachers can do a lot in improving children’s vocabularies.