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How to Teach Toddlers New Words

by Jaimie Zinski

An average 2-year-old has a vocabulary of around 20 to 200 words, and this number soars to around 1,000 words for a 3-year-old, according to Zero to Three. The mind of a toddler is like a sponge, ready to absorb any information he can. The number of words your toddler is exposed to and learns can have a profound affect on his later learning abilities. According to Zero to Three, a 3-year-old's vocabulary is directly related to his later reading abilities.

Read to your toddler every day. Choose age-appropriate books, and each time you come across a new word your toddler hasn't been exposed to, repeat it a few times and explain what it means. For example, if a character in the story if “frustrated,” explain to your toddler what that means.

Talk to your toddler as much as you can. Talking to your toddler as much as possible not only helps build his vocabulary, it also builds his confidence. No matter where you are or what you're doing, constantly engage your toddler.

Ask your toddler questions that don't require a simple “yes” or “no” answer. These closed-ended questions don't help your toddler learn how to express himself or build his vocabulary. For example, the next time you're on a walk through your neighborhood, ask your toddler where you think a dog owner is taking his puppy or why you think a neighbor painted his home blue.

Arrange play dates with other toddlers. Encourage your tyke to play and talk with the toddler. Your toddler will not only have a great time, but interacting and verbalizing with his peers will also expand his vocabulary.

Engage your toddler's imagination through creative play. Zero to Three recommends parents act out a favorite story or nursery rhyme, or you can come up with your own game. Whatever you choose, encourage your toddler to express himself by leading and telling the story.

Hand your toddler a play phone, or even an old cellular phone, and play an old fashioned game of telephone. Have an enjoyable conversation with your toddler about his day, or simply pretend that you haven't seen each other all weekend and want to catch up. Whatever the topic, pay attention to continue asking open-ended questions and encouraging your toddler to use words.

Items you will need
  • Books
  • Toy telephone

Photo Credits

  • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images