As your child grows up, your sassy threenager suddenly has a huge repertoire of words and something to say about everything. And by the time your child hits their pre-primary years, the rest is history.
While your chatty little boss may leave you tearing your hair out at times, (we’ve all been there) their rapidly increasing vocabulary is a positive sign. And now more than ever, a child’s competency in communication is of paramount importance. Being a confident and articulate speaker makes all the difference in the opportunities that will come to your child’s way, be it in school or in their future.
5 Reasons Vocabulary Benefits Your Child
The Power of Communication. The wider their vocabulary, the more explicit your child will be at communicating their needs and wants. Through the power of words, they will be able to share their ideas and opinions.
The Ability to Understand. Vocabulary is the most fundamental unit of comprehension. So when your child’s vocabulary is limited, it causes gaps in their understanding of what they read or hear.
Logic. The wider your child’s vocabulary is, the higher the chances they will be able to interpret and express ideas and concepts.
Persuasive Power. A rich vocabulary is tied to being a more persuasive and engaging speaker. Imagine giving your child this power!1
It’s All about Impressions. An eloquent speaker forms a lasting impression. There’s no denying that fact.
Vocabulary development is not magic. And it doesn’t happen overnight. But before we discuss some tips to help you build your child’s vocabulary, here’s what you should be expecting from the age of one to six.
One Year Old: Mama, Dada!
Most children speak their first words shortly after turning 1.2 They usually start with simple words such as “mama” or “dada” to name people or objects.
Toddlers have barely 10 words when they are one year old, to about 50 words when they are between 18 and 24 months. Children tend to experience a “word spurt” after their first 50 words.2 By this time, they are also able to understand and follow simple directions, familiar name objects and body parts. They may also form two to three-word sentences like “Mama car?” or “I want milk.”
Two-Year-Old: Dog, Cat, Dinosaur
Children’s vocabulary starts expanding at this stage, and they have around 200 to 300 words that they are familiar with.3 You will be hearing many nouns at this stage – dog, cat, banana, cookie. They also start saying, “thank you” “sorry” and “all gone”. Generally, these are words that they frequently use as they interact with the world around them.
Three-Year-Old: Happy... Angry!
They don’t call them threenagers for nothing. At this age, they’re well capable of talking back to you, and their vocabulary has increased significantly.
Expect your child’s vocabulary to triple to about 900 to 1000 words at this stage.3 Three-year-olds are also able to string together simple sentences. You can expect more connecting words such as “if”, “and”, “because”, more numbers and names of categories such as “vegetables” and “animals”. They should also be identifying simple emotions such as “happy”, “sad” and “angry”.
Four-Year-Old: I Don’t Know
Typically, four-year-olds have a 1,500 to 1,600-word vocabulary.3 You can expect more complex emotions like “confused” “upset” and “delighted” and also more connecting words such as “when” and “but”.4 They have a better sense of direction and many more prepositions in their sentences. They are also able to verbalize what’s going on in their head by telling you “I don’t know,” or “I can’t remember.” Yes, at this stage, sentences are getting increasingly complex.
Five to Six-Year-Old: To Infinity and Beyond
Around this age, your child will be a kindergartener and have an expressive vocabulary of anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 words.4 Meanwhile, their receptive vocabulary (words they understand) will be about 20,000 to 24,000 words.3 They understand alliteration and rhymes and are able to read and write. They can also easily form sentences with six words or more.
Now that you know what to expect, here are some activities for you to build your child’s vocabulary.
How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary
Read, Read and Read
This is a given, and it is almost impossible to overemphasise its importance. Expose your child to plenty of reading materials. The more they read, the wider their vocabulary will be. Read with them as well, and encourage them to pay attention to new or unfamiliar words.
Engage in sensory play such as playing in a sandbox, making dough, exploring the texture, and so on. As you engage in the play, you and your child can describe what you see, feel, hear, taste and smell5 and you’ll be amazed at how rapidly your child adds sensory words to her/his vocabulary!
A little bit of adventure is good for everyone, so take your child out to explore nature. Take them to beaches, parks, rivers, wherever you please. Talk about everything you see, hear and experience. Your child will be excited and have lots to say. Extend this activity by following up your little outing with a book that is related to it.
Make dinnertime more meaningful by making it a vocabulary building time as well. For starters, you can ask your child questions about her day. Ask them to tell you whom they played with, what they had for lunch, what their teacher wore, what books they read at the library, and so on. As they describe their day, you can use descriptive words and phrases to substitute the simpler ones that they use. In no time, they will be repeating after you!
After you’ve established a reading routine, every now and then, put the book down and ask your child to either retell the story in their own words or to create their own story altogether. Along the way, ask questions to introduce new words and concepts. When you force them to articulate their ideas, it works wonders in reaching for new words!
Along with engaging your child in these activities, it’s also important that you ensure they have sufficient rest and good nutrition.
So go all out and help your children to build a solid vocabulary. It’s one of the best gifts you can give them!