VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT FOR TODDLERS
VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT FOR TODDLERS
#1 Rule… Focus on teaching words a child can use during everyday activities.
Frequently parents (and therapists!) ask for a list of vocabulary as they begin to focus on teaching a toddler to understand and use new words. That’s no easy task! Kids and families like and do different things. What’s relevant for one toddler is foreign to another. If you live a city, your child is not likely to need to know words like “horse” and “tractor,” but if you live in a rural Kentucky like I do, he probably does!
For this reason, the best way to decide what words you should focus on teaching is by paying attention to what comes up during a child’s everyday life.
What’s important to a child and his or her family? When I work directly with parents, I recommend that they begin by making a list of their child’s favorite people, foods, toys, pets, and things to do.
Be sure to include any favorite characters from shows or games, especially for toddlers who have spent lots of time with “screens” watching TV, DVDs, videos, or apps. When a child has unique interests (even fixations), include those too. These are the words we should make sure that he learns to understand first. Not only does this approach make sense from the “importance” factor; it lines up with how toddlers typically learn language.
Early vocabularies include mostly nouns, or names for people, places, and things. As you made your initial list for what your kid likes, you were recording nouns. Because these are the things a child prefers, many late talkers will already understand these nouns. Celebrate—you won’t have to teach them!
What’s even better is that you now have something to work with to teach other new word types that a child doesn’t seem to understand yet. The word types that toddlers learn next include action words, or verbs, and location words, or prepositions. Even though these words aren’t nearly as individualized or as exciting for a child, they are essential for helping a toddler learn to follow directions.
Early Action Words: Verbs – bite, blow, break, bring, bump, clean, close, cook, cry, dance, draw, drink, drive, eat, fall, feed, finish, get, give, go, help, hit, hug, hurry, jump, kick, kiss, look, love, open, play, pull, push, put, read, ride, run, say, see, show, sing, sleep, smile, splash, stop, swim, swing, take, throw, tickle, touch, walk, wash, watch, wipe, write
Early Location Words: Prepositions – in, out, off, on, up, down, there, here, under
Toddlers learn best by DOING!
Remember that toddlers learn best by DOING! Teach action words and location words as they’re happening in real time in a toddler’s everyday life. Because all these words are “functional,” situations will naturally arise so that you can highlight the word and help a child link meaning. Please don’t fall into the trap of using flashcards, a vocabulary app, a YouTube video, or even an educational game to teach these words.
Teach by DOING!
When a word doesn’t seem to occur in things you already do, it should be relatively simple to set up situations for introducing that word. I promise, it’s much easier than it may seem. 193 For example, if you realize that your toddler doesn’t understand the word “dance” because you don’t do it very often, all you need to do is begin to dance and talk about dancing. If you don’t think your child understands the word “down,” make sure that you emphasize the word “down” each time you’re placing him down on the floor, down on the bed, or going down the steps. To be even more purposeful, you could play a fun game where the main action is falling down.
When a child seems to need more “oomph” to learn a new word, use one of his favorite characters or highly preferred activities. For example, if a child’s favorite character is Buzz Lightyear, Buzz becomes the teacher! Make a Buzz toy perform any of the action words and put him in all the locations on the word lists.
Let’s try a scenario that’s a little trickier… if a child is fixated on playing outside in the driveway, help the child do as many different actions and put himself or objects in as many different locations as possible while he’s out there. Look back at the lists. Nearly half of the words on them can be taught in the driveway using the toys he already plays with out there, like cars and trucks or with other interesting things you might find like leaves, rocks, and sticks. You may have to be a little more creative in this situation, but it can be done! See what I mean? Real life is much easier to set up than tracking down special “therapy” materials!
Teach other kinds of early words too. Beyond a child’s favorites (nouns) and common action words (verbs) and familiar location words (prepositions), here’s a list of other early words used in everyday routines:
Possessive Words (pronouns) – me, mine, my, you, I, it
Descriptive Words (adjectives/adverbs) – all gone, asleep, bad, big, broken, careful, clean, cold, cute, dark, dirty, dry, empty, fast, fine, gentle, good, happy, hard, hot, hungry, hurt, little, naughty, ice, old, pretty, scared, sick, sleepy, soft, thirsty, tired, wet, yucky, yummy
Quantity Words (pronouns) – all, one, more, none, other/another, some
Other Common Nouns – names for household objects, rooms in your home, pieces of furniture, body parts, clothing, food and drinks, toys, outside things, places to go, games and routines, vehicles, and animals
Social Function Words – please, thank you, hi/hello, bye-bye, again, sorry, uh-oh, yes/uhhuh/okay, no/uh-uh
Common Questions and Phrases – Are you hungry? Are you sleepy? Be careful. Be quiet. Be still. Change your diaper. Come here/come on. Daddy’s/Mommy’s home. Don’t do that. Don’t touch. Get up. Give it to Mommy. Give me a hug/kiss. Go bye-bye. Go night night/go to bed/take a nap. Get the ____. Give it to me. Good boy/girl. Look. Open your mouth. Sit down. Spit it out. Stop it. Take a bath. Throw the ball. Want to go for a ride? Want a drink? Want more? Ready, set, go!
Don’t let the size of this list intimidate you! Toddlers, whether they talk on time or late, learn words best when you include them naturally, but consistently, in your daily conversations with them. Learning what all these words mean will not happen for any child in a day, or a week, or even a month, but it will happen over time if you’re committed to the process.
Download a pdf of the word list:
VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT FOR TODDLERS
Sign Up for your
Subscribe to the Podcast in iTunes
Teach Me To Talk Testimonials
Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children
"Hello Miss Laura,
First, I would like to thank you for all you do for us moms who are lacking support in the autism community, and thank you for providing tons of information and resources to help our bright children. I myself benefited so much from watching your videos and reading your daily emails. I cannot stress enough how much all this information helped my toddler. Of course, getting an autism diagnosis for your child is extremely scary (she was diagnosed at 2 years old) and I was depressed and did not know what autism was, how it affected children, and how to teach children struggling with this condition. However, your videos helped me to find light in my child and now I am your biggest fan! I rewatch your videos over and over again to make sure I didn't miss anything that can help my daughter. I even purchase two books- Autism workbook and Teach me to Play. My toddler was completely non-verbal, she didn't know how to imitate, no eye contact, no pointing.. you name it she didn't have any skills and I didn't know how to teach her! And that is until I discover ed You- my toddlers (Fairy: smiling_face_with_3_hearts:)!
Now she is little sweet 2.5 years old and she says "mama" (I cried when she said that magic word), she waves bye bye or hi, she points, she gives "high 5", her joint attention is great and overall she is doing so much better! And that's all because I have been doing everything you described in your books and videos! I. My mind I always play "repetition, repetition and repetition", teaching her everything through play that she so much enjoys!!! I can write forever explaining how much I taught her through yr videos and books! And the most amazing thing is that her speech therapist is a big fan of yours as well so it worked out perfectly since we understand each other and work based on your teachings! The therapist even owns the same books I own ...I am so grateful that my toddler has such an amazing therapist; especially the one that understands autism and is ready for a real challenge! God bless you for all you do and I cannot wait for my toddler blossom.. you gave me hope and lit the light inside me. And I'm determined to work with my girl :)"
"Dear Laura Mize and Team,
Thank you so much for all your hard work and publishing books! Our 17-month-old toddler suddenly exploded into speaking and imitating everybody's gestures and sounds, just a week or two after we 'completed' all activities that are listed under 11 pre-linguistic skills! Your method really works!"
I absolutely LOVE all of your workbooks, especially your Autism Workbook. Starting with Social Games has been a game changer for many of my littles with ASD and their families. It's been the best way for them to finally connect and sustain shared attention and engagement, leading to longer social interactions, through play!"
Jodie, Dev, Therapist
"Hi Ms. Laura,
Thank you so much for the videos you have posted on your youtube channel. They are so direct, informative, and helpful. Thank you for being a resource for me to become a better therapist."
"Hi Laura - I just wanted to say I received my copies of the Apraxia workbooks yesterday and I LOVED workbook 1 (not ready for 2). I'm on chapter 8 and going through the questions carefully so I'm prepared to help my son. I knew it was a great book when you acknowledged the fact that sometimes therapists and doctors don't bring a positive and supportive vibe when diagnosing. I remember being terrified at the mention of apraxia and ASD by both because they had these very concerned looks and made it seem like it was a death sentence. I know now (in LARGE PART, THANKS TO YOU AND YOUR VIDEOS) that it doesn't have to be!! I see a future for him now. You SINGLE-HANDEDLY, through your books and videos have empowered me to help my son after the doctors and therapists have gone home. You've given me strategies, play ideas, plans on how to keep moving forward. I don't always do things right, but I know I'm on the right track and I love that I can reference, and re-reference your books to help me keep going. As I was reading the book, I was so proud of myself because I've used strategies from your previous books and it felt good because I could check off a lot of the skills that you discuss. So, thank you for all your previous books as well!!"
"Gosh, I love all of your emails/podcast/website, just everything!! I work in early intervention as a behavior analyst and am learning so much from you!"
I love your work! I am a professor of early childhood special education and a speech language pathologist! I have worked to help children learn to communicate and I know how valuable the information you share is for both early interventionists and pediatric speech language pathologists!
Thank you for systematically organizing and explaining essential steps for young children to learn and develop. You are having a great impact on our profession, the ECE profession and families!"
If this is Laura herself reading this email let me take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have put forth for us professionals. I own every manual (except the autism manual) and have watched every course on DVD. I have listened to countless podcasts. All of what I’ve come to be as an Early Intervention speech therapist was absolutely to your credit. With your resources at my side I have never needed to scramble for answers and strategies and above all the clear language I use when communicating with parents. My fun, animated affect and key phrases I use have been learned through watching your example. So….thank you! May you be blessed."
"I just wanted to thank you so much for your incredible help! You are so kind and lovely and every time I implement something you've taught in your manuals or videos it is always a success, I cannot thank you enough. I really appreciate how specific you are in giving us examples of wording to use and how to use a toy in therapy with your videos, it is exactly what I need to properly help my little students. I also really appreciate your list of books of list of toys. I have seen my little students make significant progress thanks to you. I'm looking forward to watching more of your videos, taking more of your CEU's, and reading more of your materials. From the bottom of my heart: thank you so much again!!"
What an inspiration!
Thank you for helping me be a better Developmental Therapist. I often listen to your podcasts which help me help families.
Your enthusiasm, professionalism and
the sheer volume of information is so great.
You are part of my team.
I just wanted you to know I appreciate you."
Thank you for your generosity in sharing so much knowledge in such a clear and enthusiastic way.
As a retired audiologist with a fabulous and language delayed grandson, I used your podcasts and outstanding publication, The Autism Workbook, to inspire and guide me over the past year.
It works!! He went from barely verbal, no gestures, didn't respond to his name etc etc to a verbal, social, curious, ready to imitate anything, fill in the blanks on familiar "set" speech, generate his own totally appropriate and mostly understandable sentences...not just short phrases anymore... full little paragraphs...about imaginary things, what he did during the day, what he wants. True communication!
You make a powerful difference in this world! ❤"
"Laura Mize, you are a Godsend. I don’t know how one human can have so many helpful things to say in a beautifully organized way, so often. Always amazes me when another super helpful email comes from you, and for free. With free YouTube videos and cheap CEUs. THANK YOU!!!"
"I purchased the book on autism and have watched the #400s series podcasts. Laura Mize has been more effective in teaching autistic tendencies, than many professors, shadowing professions, and the 100s of books, articles and classes or videos, or live workshop speakers, have been at teaching effective practices for a child with ASD. Some of the many lessons she has taught, which I will now use, to be a more effective Interventionist, include but are not limited to: red flags, typical behaviors, self-stimulating behaviors, not taking away toys, rather showing child to play with toy appropriately. She gives examples of child's actions, "inappropriate," explains the reason for: why the child is engaging in these behaviors and how they can be replaced with more appropriate, effective fuctional and age-appropriate skills."
"I’m sure Laura gets these messages all the time, but I thought I’d share. I stumbled across Laura‘s "Autism or Speech Delay?" YouTube video when I really needed it. This video finally listed and explained some of the red flags my son was showing for autism. I share the link anytime a parent is questioning in my FB autism group. This mother I don’t even know said Laura's video changed her life. I know exactly how she feels because It changed families too. Thank you to everyone at Teach Me To Talk."
"Good Morning Laura,
I received your book (The Autism Workbook) yesterday and it is absolutely amazing! As I evaluate young children (0-3) for developmental delays and write plans for them with their parents, there are a ton of ideas that are ready to use. Others that reinforce what I have been doing, and saying, all along. Thank you so, so much for writing this incredible book and pulling everything together in one place!"
FRANCINE IN MICHIGAN
"Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, experience, and guidance.
I’m a parent who bought the autism workbook and it’s the only clear resource I found to make a change in my son. I’m really thankful to Ms. Laura for helping out people like us all over the world."
"Laura Mize, all I have to say is that ALL YOUR STRATEGIES WORK."
ANNE, YouTube viewer
"We have 7 SLPs in our preschool (public) program for special needs children (ages 3-5) and we use your courses, books, and techniques every day! :-) We have seen our preschoolers make such great gains!"
"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!
Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!" It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me! Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”
"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.
We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.
Thank you so much, endlessly."
"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"
"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."
"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."
"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."
"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"
"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"
Laura thank you so much. Btw, you have transformed my therapy- I have become such a competent and strong therapist after watching probably like 350 of your videos and podcasts over the past few years. And I am a seasoned therapist with almost 25 years experience. (Yes prob 350 episodes ha!) But there was still a lot I learned from you. I have such a thorough understanding of birth to 3 development and how to properly incorporate appropriate therapeutic goals, techniques and strategies now, thanks to you. Kelly
Hi Laura,I want to thank you so much for the resources you provide, my daughter has delayed speech and though she qualifies for CDS. Honestly the most progress she has made in her speech/language development has been after I implemented your 5 top strategies for delayed talkers! She is now almost 2.5 and her vocabulary is well over 75 (I haven’t counted recently, could be over 100) words when at 2 she barely had four words. Honestly the last few months have been a transformation for her.