The Importance of Vocabulary

The Importance of Vocabulary
by Jody B. Miller MA, CCC-SLP Integrated Pediatric Interventions

Since comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, the importance of vocabulary development cannot be overestimated. A robust vocabulary improves all areas of communication — listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Vocabulary is critical to a child’s success for these reasons:

  • Vocabulary growth is directly related to school achievement
  • The size of a child’s vocabulary in kindergarten predicts the ability to learn to read
  • Vocabulary helps children to think and learn about the world
  • Expanding a child’s knowledge of words provides unlimited access to new information

A 2012 study by Meredith Rowe, an Associate Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, discusses the ideas of quantity versus quality of speech used with infants and toddlers. At early ages (between 12 and 24 months), the amount of language used is important. Parents and other caregivers should speak to the child all the time and provide consistent word models. Children need to hear words modeled many times before they will begin to use the words, so the more frequently they are exposed to words, the better the likelihood that they will gain that word in their vocabulary. Between 24-36 months, it is recommended that caregivers begin to use different words, with greater variety to expand vocabulary skills.

Between 36-48 months, vocabulary begins to be more related to quality. During this stage, it is important to provide a child with narratives. Caregivers can speak about past and future events and provide explanations of these things. Begin using more sophisticated language and provide examples so the child can learn to understand new words based on descriptions related to words they already know. The important thing is to stay one step ahead of children in their development — modeling words and phrases that are slightly beyond the child’s level will help develop a stronger vocabulary.

How do we help children do this? There are many ways to embed vocabulary into children’s daily lives. Engaging in conversations and talking kids through their daily routines is a great way to build vocabulary skills. Concepts such as body parts are learned through diaper changing, dressing and bath times. Talking during pretend play, block building, meal times, motor play, music and sensory activities will introduce kids to a variety of concepts and descriptive words (i.e., hot, cold, big, tall, up, down, wet, dry, fast, slow).

Reading is another great activity to develop vocabulary. Parents shouldn’t feel like they have to stick to the words on the page, either. Books with many pictures and few words are great conversation starters. Caregivers can talk about what they see on the page, point out interesting details, or follow the lead when their child points to something. Avoiding vague words is important as well. While it’s easy to gesture in a general direction and say “that one” or “over there,” nondescript words won’t increase a child’s vocabulary and knowledge the same way that pointing towards an object and describing it will--think of how many concepts the sentence “I see a big, green truck on the bottom shelf” includes!

Fun Ways to Practice Vocabulary

Use Theme-Related Magnet or Sticker Boards to Create Stories:
Animals, transportation, rooms in a house, princess castles or characters from familiar children’s stories, such as The Three Bears
*Important for vocabulary development

Play Games:
I spy, hide-and-seek, Twenty Questions and bingo boards
*Great for identifying items based on clues

Incorporate Toys:
For example, Mr. Potato Head
*Helps with body part recognition

Jewish Child & Family Services provides a continuum of therapeutic interventions for children from birth through adolescence. We evaluate and treat social, emotional and developmental delays using a variety of therapies, including developmental, occupational and speech and language therapies, social work and social skills development. In our clinic or in your home, our expert pediatric therapists bring a family-focused approach to your child’s treatment. Call 847.412.4379 to schedule a free consultation.