We all know how important it is to talk to our children during the early years. They are like little sponges soaking up every new word. They are full of wonder and are so inquisitive. There are a few simple ways we can “play on words” to really take advantage of this language learning time and build on their developing vocabulary and concepts.
Let me preface all of this by saying, I’m NOT a fan of using flashcards or worksheets to build vocabulary in young children (toddler and preschool years). There is a time for that style of learning later on when children start school. I believe that early language is learned best during meaningful experiences and in natural learning environments. For example, while on a walk outside, while listening to an engaging bedtime story, during playtime, or even while making a fun new craft with mom or dad. Hands-on natural learning experiences provide several opportunities for new vocabulary growth.
There are some simple tricks you can do during those experiences to help expand on the new vocabulary words your child is learning. I’ve done all of these in speech therapy as well as with my own girls at home too. I like to call it having a little Word Play.
1. Category Word Play: Once your child learns a new word, expand on that by talking about what category or “group” it fits into. For example, a dog is a PET. A horse is a FARM ANIMAL. An orange is a FRUIT. When you give the category name (pet, farm animal, fruit, etc), ask your child to think of other objects or words that fit into that group. You will be surprised at how many words that question can generate all by itself!
2. Function Word Play: What exactly does that new word/object DO? What is its’ function? For example, a car takes people to and from where they want to go. A dog can run fast. An airplane flies high in the sky. Talking about functions of objects teaches your child all kinds of action words which are so important when children are learning to build sentences or complete thoughts.
3. Attribute Word Play: Describe your new word. Think five senses here. What does it look like, feel like, taste like (if appropriate), sound like or even smell like? Try to describe it by shape, size, or color. How many words can you think of to simply describe one object?
By expanding on one newly learned word using some of these word plays, your child not only develops a greater understanding of that new word, but will also be using many more vocabulary words at the same time. Don’t forget to have fun while “playing on words”…..it can be really exciting to see where the conversation goes!
**Disclaimer: All communication tips offered in the blog are not meant to substitute for professional speech and language services if your child qualifies for them. They are meant for educational purposes only, to provide simple examples of ways to promote speech and language development in children.