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Enhancing your child’s vocabulary (word knowledge) in everyday activities

Enhancing your child’s vocabulary (word knowledge) in everyday activities

As parents, we often want to be ‘teaching’ and ‘testing’ our children regularly, especially if there is some anxiety about a child’s language development. It is more effective, though, to provide lots of ‘input’ and opportunities for children to produce language without asking them constantly to produce language.   Try the following…


Rather than testing your child’s knowledge, see your job as giving your child lots of models.  For example when looking at a book, you can describe the pictures to your child.

The length and complexity of your models will depend on the child’s age.  For example, if a child is 2 years of age, you might model using 2 – 3 word sentences, or slightly longer sentence, but emphasising the 2 – 3 key words e.g. ‘oh, big dog’, or ‘the girl and boy are walking’. Try not to give a model and then expect your child to repeat it.  Try to take the pressure off your child to ‘perform’.  Simply see your job as providing lots of models.  Your child will use the language when s/he is ready.

Expectant pausing

Provide opportunities for your child to use language, without asking them directly to repeat what you say, or to label objects.  Instead, use expectant pauses.

E.g. in a book, you might be reading a story to your 3 -6 year old child where the last word in each sentence rhymes.  Once your child is familiar with a book, read the first part of the sentence leaving off the last word, pause and look at your child.  Wait for several seconds.  If the child responds, praise and keep going. If not, provide the child with an acceptable response (model) and then continue with the story.

Using modelling and expectant pausing in everyday situations to expand vocabulary

Shopping: When shopping, every time you pick at item off the shelf, give it to your child to put in the trolley, labelling and describing the item (modelling) each time.  Every now and then pause and see if the child can name the item.  If s/he can, praise, if not, simply say the name and keep going. E.g. Tinned pineapple, it’s very heavy’. Often children will enjoy this game and spontaneously start labelling and describing.

Cooking: Ask your child to assist you with the cooking/baking.  Label and describe each of the ingredients as you are using them.  ‘We need a cup of flour, the flour is white and very soft.  It feels light, have a feel’. ‘Now we need some sugar, it feels very…[expectant pause],’

You can use the same techniques when driving (describe what you see), walking, playing at the beach, dressing, or bathing (for younger children).

Dr. Michelle O’Brien
Speech Pathologist
The Little Bookworm
Enhancing Speech Language and Literacy

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