Vocabulary

15 Easy Ways to Improve Your 3 Year Olds Vocabulary

Your 3 year old toddler seems to pick up new vocabulary like a sponge from their everyday lives. By 3 years old their vocabulary should be around 200 words and they should be using 3-4 word sentences (1). (Free printable 200 word vocabulary list).

Improving your toddler’s vocabulary is important at this stage in their development. A good vocabulary is essential to their success in school and beyond. The time to start helping your toddler is right now. Kids can fall dangerously behind their friends far earlier in life than scientists first thought.

Although it feels like your 3 year old toddler just develops their language skills naturally in everyday life. This is only partially true.

Kids who are read regularly with their parents every day have been exposed to 1 million more words by the age they are five (2). The “million-word gap” could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development according to Jessica Logan assistant professor of educational studies at The Ohio State University.

Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school.

Jessica Logan, assistant professor of educational studies at The Ohio State University.

Now, we know how important a good vocabulary is and that you need to start improving your 3 year old’s vocabulary right now.

15 TIPS TO BUILD YOUR TODDLER’S VOCABULARY

Building your toddler’s vocabulary is easy if you know how. It’s all about incorporating vocab expanding activities into their daily routines. Use these 15 tips and tricks to boost their exposure to new words, quickly and easily.

1. READ TO THEM

The amount of time that you, as a parent, sit and read with your child is a great way to indicate how good their reading skills will be in the future (2). It’s as simple as that.

Reading is so important to me personally. I think it’s the one skill more likely to bring you happiness in life than anything else. Having good solid reading skills allows you to learn and teach yourself more effectively in the future.

HOW TO GET YOUR TODDLER READING
1. Make it a daily activity. Incorporate it into your routine. At bedtime is a great way to start as it is relaxing and a great bonding experience for both of you.
2. Read more than once a day: You can read with your toddler as much as you want. If you already read at bedtime then why not read as soon as they wake up, or after lunch. Multiple reading sessions a day are better than one.
3. Read this article 18 Genius Ways to Make Kids Love Reading.

2. GET YOUR TODDLER TO READ ALOUD

Reading to your 3 year old is great, but one thing that vastly improves their understanding is having them read out the story aloud to you, or if they find that too difficult with a particular book, have them read out some words with your help.

When your toddler reads out the words it activates a different part of the brain than the words being read to them. This can improve their understanding, pronunciation, and memory recall.

Reading aloud can also improve their confidence. With your encouragement, they can practice how to say words that they have difficulty with. Some children may be too shy to attempt trying to say new words in front of others, but not when they feel safe at home with you.

Learning with dad
Learning to read with dad

3. LET YOUR TODDLER READ THE MENU

Encourage your toddler to read menus, signs and general information while they are out and about in their everyday lives is crucially important to their vocabulary development.

Vocabulary that we use every day to find information from our surroundings can be different from the words found in children’s books. This is why it’s important to get them reading everything they see! An easy one is to have them try and read you the menu when ordering food at a restaurant. Help them with difficult words and to decide what they would like to eat.

There are plenty more opportunities to get them reading though, take a look around you. Shop signs, road signs, labels in supermarkets. You should incorporate reading into your everyday life and it will do wonders for their practical vocabulary.

4. SINGING

Every 2 / 3 year old loves a good sing-along. Get them singing to the radio, making up their own songs, or even singing to the dog. Singing to them helps keep their interest in learning new words and allows you to expose them to more language than just talking.

Sometimes I find that I try and talk to my little ones throughout the day so they can have more exposure to different words but it becomes hard to constantly think of topics to speak to them about. That’s where singing can help you out, just sing your favorite songs to them, you know the words and the repetition can help them learn new ones too.

Singing to your child also helps you bond with them in a different way than just talking. If they join in then it can help them express themselves creatively. Singing also helps them develop their breathing skills.

5. PLAY WORD GAMES

Every 3 year old loves a good game, what better way to include word games into their everyday play. You could use pre-made games or cards, create your own or simply use speaking games. There are plenty of games for you and your 3 year old to enjoy, here are some great examples to get you started:

  • Guess the Animal: You can make an animal noise and have your toddler guess the animal.
  • A Game of Feel: Collect a number of small items together that have different textures and feel. Then have your 3 year old close their eyes and rub the items on their cheeks and they have to guess how the item feels. Hard? Soft? Fuzzy? Cold?
  • Simon Says: You can try the classic game of Simon says. Simon says “Clap your hands!”
  • Body Parts: Have your child call out which body part you should kiss next, or you could try it in the bath, which part of you should we clean next?

6. DISCUSS THEIR DAY

At the end of every day, when it’s time for bed. It’s a nice time to discuss their day. You can ask them about what they enjoyed that day, what they didn’t like and who they met.

It is a lovely time to bond with your 3 year old and great for working through confusing things that may have happened to them. They will feel loved and listened to if you have the time and patience for them in the evening.

Discussing their day will also have the added benefit of getting them to use new words naturally. New experiences will expose them to new words and help their vocabulary grow.

Having them describe their social interactions with their friends will help them understand how to act around others and how best deal with stressful situations they will come across in the future.

7. TALK ABOUT PLANS FOR TOMORROW

After you have discussed the day they have just had there’s no better time to plan the events for the next day! What do they want to do? What do you have to get done tomorrow and why is it important? Who you will meet along the way tomorrow?

Discussing event before they happen will give you a chance to explain any situations that might arise before they happen so your three year old can be more prepared to meet any challenges.

Discussing future plans opens up a whole new area of vocabulary for your little ones.

Now they can learn to describe what they will do tomorrow in the future tense. They will feel more relaxed as they know what to expect from the days ahead. Discussing things like these just before bed is a great idea because during sleep their little brains will be able to process all that new information more effectively.

8. TRY PRETEND READING

Pretend reading is an interesting and fun activity that you can enjoy with your three year old that helps them develop their vocabulary and language skills. The aim of the game is to give the book to the child and ask them to read it to you, most children will then open it up and try to have a go.

The important difference when playing the game of pretend reading is not to correct them when they make a mistake. Just let them carry on. It helps them gain independence in their own reading skills and allows them time to make their own mistakes.

It does rely on you giving them your full attention and praising their efforts to try and understand the book and tell the story to you.

9. STORYTELLING

Storytelling has to be one of the most fun ways to expand your child’s vocabulary. It’s a chance for you to use your imagination to the full. You can even enlist the help of your little one, maybe they can give you a character that they would like to hear a story about, for example, a naughty monkey or a sleepy dragon.

Then use your own imagination to weave a little tale for them. Don’t worry if you feel like you aren’t great at making up stories or you don’t have a vivid imagination. Your three year old will love any kind of story you come up with. Maybe you could even have them appear in the story? That’s sure to get you extra points with them.

You can borrow ideas from stories you already know, fairy tales, movies, books, TV shows, or plays. Remember to make more adult tales a lot simpler for your toddler so they follow along easily.

Reading helps boost your child's vocabulary
A story to capture their imagination and boost their vocabulary

10. LISTENING TO NURSERY RHYMES

Listening to nursery rhymes and any simple child-friendly music for that matter is a great way to expand your three year old’s vocabulary. Music activates a different part of your child’s brain than regular conversation, have you ever experienced remembering all the words to a song on the radio you hate? That’s an example of music’s positive power on memory.

Music allows your 3 year old to connect to words in a different way and will keep them interested in learning longer than just one method of learning new vocabulary. It’s a good idea to use many of the different approaches on this list and keep them excited about the whole process. Nursery rhymes have the added benefit of being repetitive, so it gives your child a chance to learn the new words and sentences off by heart so they have more time to understand them.

11. GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK

Positive feedback is very important for your developing 3 year old. Children are very responsive to the feedback that they get from you as their parent. If you encourage their use of a new word by praising them, the word will stick in their memory and they are much more likely to use that word again.

If this positive feedback is missing then they will struggle to know if what they are saying is correct. Make sure to keep the feedback positive or at least constructive, negative feedback isn’t beneficial for your child. They can and will learn better without it.

12. ENCOURAGE NEW EXPERIENCES

Encourage them towards new experiences as much as you can. When a child experiences something new a whole world of new words opens up to them. For example, if you take them to the aquarium, there will be a whole new underwater world of words to learn. Fish, Octopus, Seaweed, Penguin, etc.

If you don’t have access to these types of places you don’t have to worry. A walk to the library or a museum or the supermarket or a nature spotting trip to the local forest will do. Exposure to new experiences is key here. New experiences will fire up their natural passion for learning and help those new words stick in their mind.

13. CUT DOWN ON SCREEN TIME

The WHO (World Health Organization) suggests no more than 1 hour of screen time per day and that less is better (1).

Excessive screen time for young children is becoming more and more common. It’s an issue that has crept up on us all as we now lead lives more tightly woven into technology than ever before.

You need to limit the time each day that your children are using screens, this includes TVs, phones and tablets.

The WHO isn’t worried about what the screens will damage your toddler’s eyes. It’s because screens don’t develop their social and vocabulary skills. They take up valuable time in which your child could be doing any fun developmental games, reading, using and learning social skills, or just using their own imagination.

Children will have plenty of time to learn how to use technology when they grow up, make sure they have the basics of vocabulary first before they start to use screens extensively.

14. DISCUSS THEIR CHOICES

Three year old toddlers make hundreds of choices every day. What food to eat? What clothes to wear? What fun thing to do at the park? Another way to get them talking and thinking is to get them to discuss their choices before and after they make them.

Do they want carrots or peas? Why? Do they want to wear shoes or boots? Why? Interacting with your child like this gets them thinking about the decisions they make every day and pushes them to expand their vocabulary so they can describe why they make their decisions.

15. FUEL THEIR INTERESTS

If your child loves trains then encourage it and get interested in trains with them. Visit the train station, buy them a book about trains. If your child loves birds then fuel their interests with a book about birds.

Get them more involved in their passions. Have them tell you about birds, draw the birds, learn about birds. A passion for a subject can go a long way to fueling how much they will learn about it. Every hobby or interest has plenty of new words to learn and use.


FREE PRINTABLE VOCABULARY LIST FOR 3 YEAR OLDS

Below is a printable vocabulary word list put together by researchers of the 331 most frequently occurring words of preschool children (2).

If your toddler isn’t using some of these words, then don’t worry. You can use this checklist to encourage them to expand their vocabulary and catch up with their friends.

VOCABULARY LIST FOR A 3 YEAR OLD – PDF (Free download)

Pin this list on your wall or refrigerator so it’s an excellent daily reminder to help your 3 year old expand their language skills.

Use it as well as the 15 tips and I am sure that over time you will see your little one start to bloom in their use of new words and surprise you every day!

WHEN SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT YOUR TODDLER’S VOCABULARY

If you feel like your 3 year old has difficulties with their language development then it might be time to seek professional advice. Some of the common warning signs that you should look out for are:

  • Difficulties in hearing
  • They find it hard to follow simple directions
  • A poor vocabulary
  • Stuttering speech
  • Words are unclear

Please don’t worry if your three year old displays any of the above problems. See your doctor for advice. It’s much better to find out if they have an issue now so a solution can be found and they can progress in developing their communication skills naturally and together with their friends when they start school.