Looking for simple ways to teach vocabulary to your toddler, especially when you’re dealing with a speech delay? We have you covered! As a parent, you wait with baited breath for your baby’s first word. Will it be “Mama,” “Dada,” or something else entirely? Once that first word comes out, for most kiddos, it’s only a matter of time before others will follow. Even if your toddler’s speech is not delayed, you may be curious what you can do to increase your toddler’s vocabulary. If your toddler’s speech is delayed, keep in mind that for most typically developing children, they comprehend words sooner than they can make the speech sounds to say the words themselves.
7 Ways to Teach Vocabulary to Your Toddler
Get in the habit of practicing speech and vocabulary with your child each day. The more you do, the more natural it will become, and your child will be talking up a storm in no time!
- Talk to your toddler as much as you can. It may feel silly to talk non-stop, but that is one of the best things you can do to help your child’s speech develop. Describe what you’re doing throughout the day – starting with how you insert the coffee filter, scoop the coffee, pour in the water, and press the button. During the bath, name each body part as you wash it. Pretend you’re in a cooking show while you make dinner and explain what you’re doing (stopping to allow your little one to smell the ingredients and talking about how each item smells).
- Don’t use baby talk. I’m not referring to parentese (which actually has been shown to be good for your baby’s language development). I am talking about actual baby talk – calling items by incorrect names (such as calling a bottle a “ba-ba”). Baby talk does not benefit your baby; it is important for their vocabulary development that you use the proper words for items.
- Invest in vocabulary books. There are some fantastic vocabulary books out there, with a great variety of words and subjects. Look for the ones that have real photos rather than animated pictures – the real photos help your toddler make the connection when they see an item in real life. Don’t worry if the vocabulary seems too advanced – you’ll be surprised what your toddler picks up! We had one vocabulary book focused on animals with some really obscure ones that I didn’t even know, but my son sure was able to tell people what a budgerigar was!
- Repeat, and repeat again. Repetition is key at this age. Use a new vocabulary word often and make a few connections with it. For example, “Oh look – there’s a squirrel! Do you see the squirrel’s bushy tail? Look how quickly the squirrel scampers up the tree! Bye, bye Mr. Squirrel!”
- Use descriptive language. In the squirrel example above, adding in “bushy” when describing his tail helps your toddler see what bushy means – the opportunity would have been missed if you just said “do you see the squirrel’s tail?” You also could have said, “the squirrel runs up the tree, but “scampers” is so much more descriptive of what a squirrel does!
- Play games. Kids love games – when learning is fun, they will retain so much more! When you are in the car, play “I spy” with your toddler. At first, she may not be able to name the things she sees, but she’ll get there quickly.
- Read every single day. The single most important thing you can do to develop your child’s language skills is read to him. Make reading part of your daily routine, and stick to it. Some kids love books and want to hold and look at them, but that’s not enough – make sure they hear you reading aloud to them every day.
Your toddler’s language skills are emerging, and before long, you’ll start to see your effort pay off. Don’t worry – the constant questions will start soon enough!