Building Vocabulary at Home

4 Mar, 2022
8 min read

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. Listen to audiobooks. 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:
  1. Having them to describe where they see the item (e.g. “I see the spanner under the black chair”)
  2. Using common items but adding descriptions (e.g. “The spikey, purple ball” OR ”the squishy, yellow banana”).
  1. 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 children to read but also read aloud to your child and play audiobooks so that children can be exposed to books that are above their reading level and therefore include more complex vocabulary.
  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 word.  
  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.

  1. 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 post-it-notes. 

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 strategies:

  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 Bananagrams, 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.’

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