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Helping your child develop their vocabulary

Helping your child develop their vocabulary

Vocabulary is simply the words of a language. When we talk about a particular child’s vocabulary we are generally talking about the words that they understand (called receptive vocabulary) and produce (called expressive vocabulary).

Your child’s vocabulary supports their ability to communicate their thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and desires to others (both adults and peers) as well as facilitating their understanding of others’ perspectives and feelings. This communication capacity enables them to build coordinated peer relationships and allows you, as their parent, to understand them more and strengthen your connection with them. Vocabulary is also important for eventually learning to read and write.

So how do you help your child to develop their vocabulary?

Actively engaging children in the communication process helps them develop vocabulary. Put simply; talk together lots and listen just as much.

To help your child develop their vocabulary, you need to:

  • Talk with your child often, about many different topics, particularly about how your child feels about different things and what they think.
  • Ask your child questions about their experiences (what was great and what was hard about your day?) and ask them what they think about different topics
  • Read together (and your child can also spend time reading independently if they are able). Provide them with books about different topics to expand their vocabulary (e.g. animals, science, fantasy, people etc.)
  • When watching a TV program, talk with your child about what you notice about the program and ask them what they think about it
  • Make sure you give your child time in discussions to ask questions and clarify their knowledge around a topic
  • Consciously use different vocabulary yourself when talking with your child
  • Have a ‘new word of the day’ each day and use the word as often as you can with your child for that day
  • When explaining the meaning of a new word to your child, give them an example of how the new word could be used in relation to them/their life (making it relevant to their world so they can better comprehend the meaning)
  • Draw an example of the word in action and use this to help your child understand the meaning
  • When your child uses a descriptive word for something, praise them for a great word and see if you can both think of another few words that could be used to describe it


The following are some good activities to encourage your child to participate in language development:

  • Play telephones
  • Puppets
  • Create stories together
  • Dolls and other dramatic play
  • Tape Recorders with microphones, or talking through walkie-talkies
  • Interactive books and other multi-sensory experiences


Here are some red flags for 3-5 year old’s vocabulary development:

  • Your child doesn’t seem to understand a lot of what people are saying to them.
  • Your child has difficulties following instructions (even when repeated several times)
  • Your child cannot retell stories, even when they have been read to them many times.
  • Your child overuses non-distinct words in their talking like “thing”, “that”, “stuff”.
  • Your child’s talking is full of ‘fillers’ like “um”, “uh”, “you know”.
  • Your child seems to use the wrong words in a sentence e.g. “That dog (chicken) has laid an egg”.

If your child is having difficulties with their comprehension, or if they are talking with some of the red flag features listed, then you may benefit from obtaining an assessment of their language skills by a Speech Language Pathologist. At YoungMinds, we have several Speech Language Pathologists who have great experience in these assessments and guiding interventions where needed.

Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our Clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request here via our website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.

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