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Build your toddler’s vocabulary. Here’s how.

As soon as my son learnt to blurb the babyish gibberish da..da, ma…ma and the ba…bas, I couldn’t wait to hear them make a complete sentence. At one and a half years, I felt he was slow when I compared him to other children. I  bought books, played nursery rhymes on my phone and exposed him to other children (my aunty advised me I should). Well, it worked. By the way vocabulary development is not just about English. It could be in mother tongue too.

Come to first year at school, I  knew he’d soon catch up on the reading and writing. I guess i was anxious to see him develop speech and reading skills at once. May be i wanted him to be a genius. In nursery class, the teacher had to inform me he had a problem reading his sounds which was slowing down his reading and it worried me sick. This year we’re in pre-unit and the transformation is tremendous. His class teacher, Mrs Nzomo  (now deceased, she passed on 2 weeks ago) helped my son lots in reading and vocabulary development. She also encouraged me a lot. I’ll never forget her words to me ‘children are never stupid. all they need is patience to develop their skills fully and at their own pace.’ Sounds like music to any discouraged parent of a toddler, right? Every parent wants to give their toddler a head start with regard to speaking, reading and writing. I’d like to offer parents out there further suggestions on how to build your toddler’s vocabulary


Reading makes books come alive by reading out loud for them.

Read together, pick up on your child’s interests and relate the book content to their life. If you see a picture of a cat, you could say “that looks like the neighbour’s cat.” Where else have you seen a cat? So he links what he sees in the book to his own experiences

Incorporate core vocabulary

Choose books that have bright colours, simple pictures and short phrases or sentences that use core vocabulary such as animals, shapes, toys, food, fruits, toys, places and activity. Give your child an opportunity to label and repeat words. Also use speech language pathologists call expansion. For example, if your child says cat, expand it to big cat, sleeping cat, black cat in order to increase their length of utterance.

Encourage repetition

Children often have a favourite book they want to read or hear the story time and time again and that’s ok. Repeated reading builds a toddler’s vocabulary and story structure understanding.

kids, vocabulary

Visit venues

Visit places that have programs specifically designed for children like a museum or the parks. Most school visits are tailored towards visiting these places because children get to learn through discovery and observation.

Go out and about

They are opportunities everywhere to learn when you go to the supermarket, pharmacy, church or doctor’s office. Point out to different things and tell them what it is. You can pick rocks or sticks and your child can count, sort and explore more. When he goes to the paediatrician for a checkup, trace his body on the table paper and learn to label body parts.

kids, vocabulary

Sing songs

Interactive songs and rhymes that incorporate movement with melodic or rhythmic patterns are captivating to children and encourage vocabulary expansion. Use songs like head and shoulders to learn body parts, 10 green bottles to learn counting, abcd to teach alphabets, twinkle twinkle to learn about creation

Tinker with toys

Blocks and simple puzzles offer geometric and spatial language with terms like above, below and next to. Your child may not be ready for board games but you can use game pieces to learn how to count, name and organise.


Narrate routine

Encouraging talk during your daily routines such as dressing up. Telling him this is your underwear, blue shirt, black socks your shoes. Most likely your child will repeat the words and you can emphasise them

Review and retell

Make it a practice before going to bed, rehash the day’s activities to cement vocabulary used by your child that day.

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