father and son reading
FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images

Expanding your toddler’s vocabulary

Expanding your toddler’s vocabulary

You were so happy when Baby spoke their first words, and you were even happier when they started to learn more. They isn’t prepping for their college exams yet, but knowing more words could help them out in school as early as kindergarten. More than that, though, the more Baby knows how to say, the more they will be able to say to you!

Your child’s vocabulary is going to expand rapidly in the coming months and years. According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, at about 12 months, Baby probably has one or two simple words under their belt, like mama or dada. By 18 months, their vocabulary will take off, usually to about 20 to 50 words. By age 2, they might be putting words together to make their first sentences, and they will know between 20 and 200 words. How can you give Baby a helping hand?

Talk to them

Obviously, you talk to Baby all the time, but for expanding their vocabulary, it can help to take some time every day to be really intentional about the words you’re using. Sometimes this just means talking at your child, but they will probably still process any new words they hear, especially if you avoid baby talk. Talk about your day, tell them stories, and describe what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

Ask open-ended questions 

Try to avoid questions that can be answered with just a “yes” or a “no” from your child. Instead of “Do you want spaghetti for dinner?” try “What do you think about having spaghetti for dinner?” If Baby seems curious about something, keep the conversation going and build on their interests. If they are playing with a ball, ask them why they like it and what they can do with it.

Verbalize your observations 

This is just a fancy way of saying “point stuff out,” but do you see what we did there? New words for old thoughts! If you see anything interesting, talk to Baby about it. “Look at those dogs running together! What do you think they’re thinking?” Offer your own suggestions if Baby is stumped. “I think they’re happy because they’re on their way to meet a friend.”

Use many, several, varied words

As you’re describing things and talking to Baby, make sure you’re switching things up. Carrots are definitely yummy, but did you know they’re also orange and crunchy and round and chewy and cold and fun? Feel free to repeat words and define them as you’re talking: “Crunchy things make a sound when you eat them, like ‘crunch crunch.’”

Read a book! 

Children’s vocabulary in preschool correlates with reading comprehension in upper elementary school, so reading and vocab will be closely tied throughout Baby’s life. Look for books that ask questions and have interactive elements so that Baby can find and name things in the book. Ask questions while you read, and name the pictures in the books.

This is a learning process for you and Baby, so remember to be supportive as you learn together. Don’t correct them when they make mistakes, just repeat the correct pronunciation, and translate for others if they can’t understand what they are saying. If Baby says “guck” for “truck,” say, “Yes, you do have a truck; I love that it’s red!” You two will be chatting it up in no time.

  • “Developing School Readiness Skills From 12-24 Months.” Zero to Three. Zero to Three, 2016. Web.
  • Mary E. Dahlgren. “Oral language and Vocabulary Development. U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education, 2008. Web.
  • Nell. K. Duke, Annie M. Moses. “10 Research-Tested Ways To Build Children’s Vocabulary.” Scholastic. Scholastic Inc, 2003. Web.
  • Michelle Pauli. “What books should I read with my 18-month-old?” The Guardian. The Guardian, August 24 2015. Web.

Related Topics

Get the Ovia Parenting app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store