How to Help Your Preschooler Build His/Her Vocabulary

Big Words for Little PeopleA rich vocabulary is incredibly important for preschoolers, older kids, and adults. Obviously, a good vocabulary helps with communication, but it also provides a solid foundation for learning other skills.

How many words should my preschooler know?

Most of the things I have read have said that a preschooler should have a vocabulary of about 4,000 words. I don’t know where they got this number, and I have no clue how many words my preschooler knows. All I know is that 4,000 words is a lot, so we have been doing our best to grow my son’s vocabulary.

How to Help Your Preschooler Build Their Vocabulary:

Keep a List of New Vocabulary Words on a Whiteboard

We have a whiteboard in the kitchen. When my preschooler asks what a word means or we come across a less common word, we write it on the board. Then, a few times a day, I will talk to him about one of the words on the list.

For example, one of our recent words was “gills”. Out of the blue, I would ask him, “What are those things called that make it so that fish can breath under water?” Or, “I can’t remember…What are gills?” Sometimes, we look up pictures on the internet or ask Daddy if he knows what something is.

Once he has mastered a word, we remove it from the list.

Beef Up Your Own Vocabulary

When you have a baby, often you find yourself dumbing down your vocabulary. The poor kid already has enough new things to absorb without learning 20 different ways to say “Please don’t touch.”

Now is the time to start talking like an adult again. If your preschooler does not understand, they will tell you or you will know by the blank expression on their face. You don’t need to go crazy with 5 syllable words, but stretching your vocabulary outside of the norm can help your preschooler immensely. 

Use Context Clues

If you are using a new word that you don’t think your preschooler will understand, use context clues to give the definition while you talk.

For example:
“My favorite is the maroon colored car. I love dark red.”
“I am ecstatic that you picked up your toys. It makes me so happy when you clean up after yourself.”

Define New Vocabulary Words As You Read

Books are a great source of new words. When we are reading and we come across a word that I don’t think my preschooler has seen before, I define it as I read.

For example:
“The emperor…(An emperor is kind of like a king)…The emperor loved wearing new clothes.”

Hunt for New Vocabulary Words

Documentaries and nature shows are a great place to find new words. My child has never been to the Arctic, so words like “tundra”, “blubber”,  and “ice floe” are not words he hears every day.

It never hurts to do a little recap after the show to reenforce the new vocabulary words.

Take Time to Rhyme

We stumbled on this vocabulary activity by accident. I asked my preschooler if he could think of any words that rhymed with “fun”. He came up with a few and then I added to the list. That was when I learned that my son had never heard the word “stun” before. I also had to explain what “none”, “nun”, “pun”, and “ton” meant.

A simple rhyming game turned into one heck of a vocabulary exercise.

Praise Your Preschooler for Using New Words

When your preschooler uses a word that you have not heard them use before, point it out. Every kid loves praise and this is a good way to motivate them to use new vocabulary words.

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