Using a wide variety of vocabulary words with children from birth to 3 insures that they will enter school with the necessary number of words to learn. A child must have a rich oral language, or spoken word, vocabulary so that when he starts sounding out words while learning to read, his brain will jump to the appropriate vocabulary word he is trying to read. He will need the words he has stored from birth to 3 in order to follow directions in school, to understand lessons the teacher is teaching, and to get along with peers and adults. He will depend on the vocabulary he “owns” (i.e., the words that he can use comfortably in conversation and while telling stories) in order to think critically, to solve language-based problems, and to manage his own and others’ emotions. To be sure, vocabulary growth cannot be emphasized enough for infants and toddlers.
The following activities, taken from the ORB3 Infant-Toddler Curriculum, can be used to build vocabulary from birth to 3. Some of the activities focus on the child learning to understand words (receptive vocabulary) and some focus on the child learning to use words. (expressive vocabulary).
1) Have a tea party or picnic. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive vocabulary: delicious, fabulous, salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, creamy, sticky, crumbly.
2) Intentionally call objects by the wrong name using a silly voice (e.g., “Oh, look at this pretty house,” when it’s really a flower). The child will instantly hear your mistake and correct you using expressive vocabulary (e.g., That’s not a house, it’s a flower!).
3) Place 3-5 objects on the table in front of the child. Ask “What’s this for?” as you hold up each object. The child will use plenty of expressive vocabulary to tell you how we use the object (e.g., It’s for digging; This is for the beach, etc.).
4) Ask “Where’s the ____?.” The child will look in the direction of what you are talking about, point at the object or say “There it is,” depending on the age of the child. If he doesn’t respond to the question, show the child the object and repeat the word twice while you show it to aid the child in storing the vocabulary word (receptive vocabulary).
5) Allow the child to watch you cooking or to participate in an age-appropriate cooking activity. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive vocabulary: measure/measuring, cup, teaspoon/tablespoon, pour, sift, stir, blend, shake.
6) During outdoor play (e.g., swinging/sliding, hide-and-seek, digging in the dirt/sand, etc.), use location words to build understanding of spatial concepts/vocabulary. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive vocabulary: under, over, through, back and forth, next to, beside, in front of, behind, down/up, down deep, into, on the surface, in the corner, on the edge, at the top/bottom.
7) During outdoor play, talk about the parts that objects and animals in nature have. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive and expressive vocabulary: trunk, branches, twigs, limbs, roots, tail, beak, wings, antennae, bushy (tail), mulch, awning, roof, shingles.
8) Use “conversation” words when you play with figures/people as you speak for them. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive vocabulary: said/says, shouted, whispered, help, share, mentioned, stated, told/tells.
9) Label pieces of clothing and parts of clothing specifically. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive vocabulary: baseball hat, visor, snow hat, mittens/gloves, knee socks, sport socks, snap, button, zipper, back/front pocket, hood, sneakers/tennis shoes, water shoe, cowboy boots, snow boots, slippers, velcro, shoelace.
10) Use the vocabulary of “relationships” when looking at personal photos or pictures in a magazine/book. Some suggested words to use during the activity to build receptive/expressive vocabulary beyond the basic (e.g., mommy, daddy, brother/sister, grandma, etc.): sibling, grandparent, son, daughter, husband, wife, cousin, friend, neighbor, colleague, office mate, best friend, family friend, roommate, teacher, helper, guide, assistant.