Building Vocabulary at Home:
The importance of vocabulary cannot be overstated. A strong vocabulary improves all areas of
communication and research shows that a sound vocabulary is directly linked to a child’s reading
and academic success. So how can we be supporting vocabulary development in our children’s day to day?
There are many ways that parents can support vocabulary development at home. Below are some
strategies to utilise with your child(ren) to best support their vocabularies. Please note that the age
ranges have been provided as a guide but are not prescriptive. Pick and choose activities specifically
for your child.
Toddlers (1–3 years)
1. Sing songs and rhymes: the repetitive use of words and sounds in songs and rhymes are
helpful for vocabulary learning as well as phonemic awareness skills.
2. Name the things around you while doing everyday tasks. (e.g. cleaning up the kitchen:
“spoon away, fork away, knife away”).
3. Narrate your daily tasks to increase exposure to language. New and relevant words are
bound to pop up as you talk about what’s occurring in your day. (e.g. “it’s bath time! Let’s
take your shoes off. Pants off. Socks off.” etc).
4. Look at books together: reading is a great way to expose children of all ages to new
vocabulary. For children of this age, parents regularly report “they’re not interested in books
though!” If this is the case, take the pressure off reading by selecting pop up or open-the-
flap books and rather than trying to read all the words on the page, talk through the pictures
on the page with your child and engage with their interests.
5. Where possible, provide a tangible object or action with words to increase their
understanding and facilitate retention of words.
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)
1. Read books. Read aloud. Read together. Name pictures. Read fiction and non-fiction.
Reading exposes us to all kinds of new vocabulary at every age.
2. Play descriptive “I spy” (e.g. I spy something that is rectangular. It is hard. You find it in the
bathroom. You use it to clean yourself. It’s… [SOAP!].
3. Ball Toss: throw the ball and each time someone catches they have to name something in a
particular category (e.g. animals, clothing, food).
4. Hide and seek with niche items / pictures of new words. There are items all over the home
that Preschoolers don’t yet know. Why not collect a few (e.g. ladle, spanner, colander etc)
hide them in a room and see if they can find and name them. While you’re at it, some
additional ways to build language include:
a. Having them to describe where they see the item (e.g. “I see the spanner under the
b. Using common items but adding descriptions (e.g. “The spikey, purple ball” OR ”the
squishy, yellow banana”).
5. Introduce synonyms into daily activities and outings. For example: if you’re at the zoo and
your child sees a big elephant, your could describe it as “enormous / huge / gigantic.” At
snack time describe yummy foods as “tasty / delicious / scrumptious”. At bath time the
water isn’t hot, it’s “warm / scorching / boiling”.
Primary Schoolers (6-12 years)
1. Encourage reading and model a love of literature by reading yourself. Read a variety of texts
and try to introduce your child to a variety of text types to increase their exposure to new
words. Encourage them to read but also read aloud to your child.
2. Talk about new words when they arise – don’t just provide a definition though! Talk about
how the word can be used, what other words are similar, when you would often hear this
3. Games such as Taboo / Charades / Pictionary / Articulate are all great opportunities for
language use, learning and consolidation.
4. Create stories together. Your child will get to use language while doing this and you might be
able to provide some new words too. A great and natural way to do this is by taking turns
creating a sentence each until the story is complete. For example:
Mum: Once upon a time there was a magical, mystical forest.
Child: In the forest there lived an ugly giant.
Dad: This giant was called Henry and he was vastly misunderstood.
5. Synonym activities. These can be implemented throughout the day (as advised in the pre-
school section) or more intentionally in a structured activity. For example: have your child
think of three synonyms for a word and write them out using scrabble tiles or on coloured
Adolescence (13-18 years)
Vocabulary is still developing in these years and you can still provide input! Many of the primary
school strategies still apply but just increased in complexity. In addition to those primary school
1. Have family challenges to learn or find new and interesting words to use. The Merriam-
Webster ‘Word of the Day’ website could be a fun place to start.
2. Games like Banagrams, Scrabble and Boggle are great ways to expose your teenager to new
and interesting words and to challenge them to produce new and interesting words.
3. Choose a topic of interest and find a relevant news article to read about and discuss
together. This could be a Saturday morning routine over a cup of tea or something you do at
the dinner table a couple of times a week. Particularly focus on the big, less common words
and see if your teenager can infer the meaning from the context of the article. Give them
some help if they can’t so they don’t feel like they’re being tested.
4. Don’t be afraid to use sophisticated vocabulary when speaking or texting your teenager. If
they aren’t exposed to it, they won’t learn it. Just be sure to check in to see if they need
support understanding a new word or phrase.
5. Compete with your teenager to see who can send text messages with the most interesting
vocabulary. For example: instead of ‘Be home by 6:00pm.’ Why not: ‘Please depart from
Mary’s residence by 6:00pm to ensure you will arrive home prior to dinner.’