At nearly 39 months, Sam works hard to expand his vocabulary. He takes in words around him and attempts to use them in his daily interactions with people and in his play. In the example in the video, Sam casually uses the word “hooking” to explain what he is doing to the truck. He uses the “ING” form of the verb “to hook” easily because he has used various forms of the verb “hook” (e.g., hooked, hooks, hook-up, etc.), by my estimate, hundreds of times to talk about vehicles and other things that can get hooked or that can hook to something else.
When I provide him with the synonym “attaching” during his play, it appears he completely ignores the “gift” I offer him as a substitute for “hook.” In fact, it seems Sam has not even heard the word because he is so busy playing and talking through his idea. I offer it to him a second time in the form of a question (i.e., Is it hard to attach?). This time he “acknowledges” the word by responding appropriately to my question. The fact that he understood it so easily tells me that it is about the time that he should be able to express, or use, the word on his own.
Sam surprises me a bit when he does just that! After hearing the word twice in this interaction, he casually attempts to use the word by telling me “I hatch it!”. In this example, one can see Sam’s auditory processing skills for the word “attach” are not quite fully developed yet, so he “associates” it with a word that sounds close to the new word he has heard. This is age-appropriate for Sam, so I provide him with one more example of the correct way to say it, but without making a big “issue” or lesson out of it.
At this age, he needs exposure to vocabulary words as well as guidance to understand and use them appropriately without the pressure of feeling like he’s doing it wrong. Vocabulary growth happens without direct “teaching” at this age, and is best encouraged through natural interactions and play. That said, the next time he uses it or I expose him to it, I would likely be a little more “firm” in helping him hear the word more carefully by breaking it down into its parts (e.g., We say “AH-tach” or “The word is “attach,” not “hatch”). I would certainly say it a bit louder and emphasize each of the sounds so he gets a clear version of it (e.g., “Hear my word: ATTACH” or “It’s ATTACH, not ‘hatch.'”).
Once he is able to use the word accurately 5-7 times, experts tell us that he then “owns” the word, meaning it is now part of his “working” vocabulary. It means that he has successfully “stored” it in his verbal (word) memory and will be able to access the memory of it easily when the situation calls for it. He will be all the more ready to read and write the word since it is part of his oral language vocabulary. He will be able to use it with peers during play with vehicles or he will be able to talk about magnets and how they “attach” during a science lesson in kindergarten. Truly, giving him the gift of this word at the age of 3 will pay off tenfold down the line for him.
Expanding a child’s vocabulary is one of the best gifts to give for school readiness. To fill a child’s mind with countless words means that he will have an easier time learning to read and write. He will be better prepared to make friends, play appropriately and control his behavior. Following his teacher’s directions and lessons will be easier for him since he will likely understand all the words in the instructions.