From using words to express wants and needs to pointing to and naming something, your toddler will no doubt constantly amaze you with the speed at which they’re picking up language. While most children won’t know how to read before they go to school, you can begin to lay strong foundations for future learning at a much earlier stage. Sharing books and playing simple word games are just a couple of the things you might do every day that can help to develop your child’s vocabulary.1

Reading Your Way to Toddler Vocabulary Development

It’s likely that your toddler already has some favourite books they want to return to repeatedly. Repetition is beneficial to vocabulary development as it helps children learn, internalize and re-create stories!2 You don’t have to always reach for books that are strictly educational. A simple picture book has the opportunity to spark joyful conversation, and you don’t need anything more than a quiet spot and a few minutes to really enjoy the experience. Sharing a story with your child can offer you both the opportunity to engage in talk and try out new words. Together you can make connections with what you see on the page, with the world around you.

Are Words More Important than Pictures?

Absolutely not. While picture books might seem like the beginners’ choice, they give you and your child the freedom to create your own narrative. And, similarly, wordy stories that have a memorable rhyme or rhythm, or surprise you with a twist at the end, can be just as entertaining for adults as they are for children. Try to mix up your choices as much as possible!

When decorating your child’s bedroom, get as creative as you dare. From posters of your child’s favourite book characters, to pinboards featuring hand-drawn letters of the alphabet, there are so many different ways to help your child develop their language skills.

How Can You Include Books in Your Everyday Routine?

There’s always time in the day for sharing a book—you don’t have to save stories for bedtime. Try to keep any other distractions at bay when you and your child are reading together. A simple fix is to leave cell phones, laptops, and TVs switched off the duration of a story so that the two of you have a better chance of immersing yourself in the words and pictures on the page.

Devices aren’t all bad, of course. There can be some amazing online resourcesi to support reading and writing, from helping to develop a toddler’s vocabulary, to supporting older children’s learning at school. Teachers and friends might have some great suggestions, and over time, you’ll find your favourite tools and resources, that you’ll no doubt want to recommend to others.

When Should Children Start Reading On Their Own?

Every child is different, so it’s important to remember that they’ll develop at different stages, too. When your little one starts school, there might be a particular focus on first-grade phonics, which can help to develop their reading and writing skills. As a guide, there are milestones that can help you to understand how your child might be developing at certain stages. For example, a child of two might use more than 50 words, and be able to form two- and three- word phrases, while a child of four years old (who is approaching school age) might use sentences with four or more words and be able to relay a story about themselves, to others.2

Teaching Your Toddler New Words By Talking

Words are wonderful—and so are the many ways we use them, and other gestures, to express ourselves. While you might find talking with a child with limited vocabulary can be tricky, that doesn’t mean that you should resort to using baby language or avoid complex words.

Try asking questions—and answering them. If your toddler likes to help you put away the groceries, you can use this opportunity to help them practice their language. You can ask a question like, “What a delicious pepper! What colour do you think it is?”. Even if you know that your child doesn’t know the words pepper or delicious yet and won’t be able to supply you with an in-depth answer, talk can encourage your toddler to get involved in the flow of conversation. “This pepper is red,” you might say after asking the above question.

It’s interesting to think that certain words you use again and again will almost certainly end up forming part of your toddler’s expanding vocabulary.

How Can You Ensure That Trying Out New Words is Fun?

Children grow and develop at an amazing pace—turn your back for one second, and it can feel like your toddler has learnt another word or picked up a new skill such as using their hands to describe a thing or a feeling. It can be tempting to try and accelerate their learning, but you should try to avoid putting undue pressure on yourself or you child by setting too many tasks or trying to reach too many goals. Simply being present in the moment with your child, and taking their lead when it comes to play, can help them to develop their language skills and vocabulary. Try to see every little triumph, and every new learned word, as a big step in development.

Should You Discuss Developmental Concerns with Your Paediatrician?

It’s always tempting to look over your shoulder at what other parents are doing, or how their children might be developing. But comparing can often lead you to feel anxious, or not good enough as a parent. You might end up thinking, “Why is my child not able to do what that other child can do yet?”

It’s so important to remember that the rate at which a child develops physically, mentally and emotionally, varies.3 Milestones exist as a way of helping you to check what is typically expected at certain ages and stages. If you are noticing that your toddler is not reaching certain milestones or is unable to understand you or express their needs adequately, please see your healthcare provider. Studies have shown that early identification and intervention of speech and language problems can lead to better outcomes; intervention can improve a child’s ability to communicate, interact with others and improve their social skills.4