How to Teach Toddlers Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary words may sound intimidating! This can especially be tricky for new toddlers as they are just learning our language for the first time. But I have 7 great tips on how to teach toddlers vocabulary! As adults, we may think of vocabulary words as words that are unfamiliar to us. 


You know, like words you might find in my mom’s nursing books (because trust me there are a lot of vocabulary words in there I don’t know). But when we bring that scale down to toddlers … it feels a lot more realistic to teach them vocabulary words. 



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In fact, for our toddlers, learning vocabulary happens all the time. In fact, according to by 22 months old your toddler should know at least 50 words. You can find out more information about that here.


What is the vocabulary of a toddler? 


Speech therapists, pediatricians, and teachers are looking for your child to recognize words that are familiar to them like objects they use (bowl, blanket, chair). 


They are also looking to see if your child can say or recognize familiar people in the family. 


Other important words that toddlers should learn overtime are directional and positional words. 


Directional words will help support them as they learn to follow what you say like take, bring, put, go, stop, and set. Positional words describe where things are located like: above, below, in, out, on, above, behind, or around. 


Teaching your toddler and using these kind of vocabulary words will better help support their ability to follow your directions as they get older. 


How do I teach my toddler vocabulary?


There are lots of ways to teach toddlers vocabulary words. Some of the ways are: 


  • Books
  • Through play 
  • Puzzles
  • Games
  • Through discussions 
  • During mealtime 
  • While acting them out



Let’s go through each of these and discuss how to increase your child’s vocabulary. 


1.    Books: 


I love using books to expand my toddler’s vocabulary. Around 10 months my children love the “First Word” books and learned 100’s of words from these books alone. I like them because they teach my kids a lot of nouns and reinforce the vocabulary of words around our home.


Another way to use books to increase vocabulary is to talk about the pictures. You can tell your child what is “on top, behind, beside, or up high” in the pictures. This will help give them a reference to positional words.


Later, when you use these words in the context of giving your child directions, “Put your shirt on the dresser.” they will have more context about what you want them to do.


I love using non-fiction texts to teach my child about things we can’t go see where we live. Given the time I’m writing this a lot of our aquariums, zoos, and other places have been shut down or are limiting attendance. It’s great to have a book to help teach about different animals, landmarks, and other things we might not have access to another way right now.


You can find some of my favorite first-word books linked here, just click on the picture of the book to purchase now!



 2. Through Play:


I try to use a variety of language when playing with my kids. I love it when they want to play “restaurant” or “kitchen”! I’m able to give my kids a lot of different vocabulary while playing. I may tell them the pizza is too hot, messy, or cheesy (really is that a thing?- bring on the cheese!).


We have a Little People problem in our home and our children love creating stories with them! I love to come up with different story situations to bring in as much vocabulary as possible.


3. Puzzles:


My youngest (just turned 2) loves puzzles! They are a great way for me to work in vocabulary words like; rotate, turn, find, look, turn over, or beside. We can also discuss the pictures on the puzzle.


Since he also has a love of all things cars, trucks, trains, and vehicles he loves to play with the pieces. He’ll push the puzzle piece of a car like a real car. This allows us to talk about car sounds and other sounds he may hear in a vehicle.


4. Games:


I have done an entire blog post on my 3 year old’s favorite games that I’ll be sure to link below. But games are great for teaching vocabulary, social skills, and patience to our little ones!


5. Through Discussions


I have a variety of talking tips in my post “how to get your toddler talking” that I’ll be sure to post for you below. But you want to make sure that you are talking to your toddler as much as you can.


You want to make sure that you are talking to your toddler and narrating your day as much as possible.


6. During Mealtime


I can think of so many describing words for mealtime including; hot, cold, wet, squishy, sour, spicy, sweet, messy, gooey, and more! What are your favorite ways to teach toddlers vocabulary at mealtime?


7. Acting Out Words


So we have discussed a lot of ways to teach your toddler nouns and adjectives. But the best way to teach verbs is to act it out. You can encourage your children to hop, jump, crawl and more.


I love making it like a game and acting out what animals would do. The kids might say “stomp like an elephant, stomp, stomp, stomp”!


I hope you found some great vocabulary tips to use with your toddler. Please let me know your favorite way to teach your toddler’s vocabulary in the comments below!


Love, Ashley E

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Hi, I'm Ashley E!

I teach moms and teachers how to inspire a love of reading in the early years. I live in Ohio with my husband & two boys. Our favorite places to be are at the beach & Disney World. But most of the time you’ll find me at school teaching, working out in our basement, or blogging at home. So grab your favorite cup of coffee, tea, or (if you’re at all like me) water & let’s go through this thing called life together.