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Often when parents think of what kind of words they would like their toddler to learn, these are some of the ones that come to mind: mama, dada, ball, bear, blanket, bottle, book, movie, car, home.

Now take a look at what types of words all of the above are. Think way back to grade school when you learned about grammar and words classes. How would you classify them? They are all nouns – a person, place or thing.

Children start saying words at around 1 year old. Nouns are great for children at this stage of language use. They can ask for the people and things that are most important to them.

So what happens next? Children begin combining words at around 2 years old. In order to combine words, we need more than just nouns in our vocabulary. Think about these common toddler phrases:

Mama up (noun+preposition)

Go home (verb+noun)

Want cookie (verb+noun)

Bear sleeping (noun+verb)

Baby hungry (noun+adjective)

These all include nouns plus other kinds of words! So when you think about teaching your toddler new words, consider some of these:

  • Verbs or action words: Actions your child may encounter often are eat, sleep, wave, read, want, and go.
  • Prepositions or location words: in, on, up, down
  • Adjectives or descriptor words: hungry, thirsty, big, small, fast, slow

Now you may be wondering how do you teach your child. Try something speech-language pathologists call focused stimulation. This involves you setting up a situation where you can use a target word many times so your child gets the input on how the word is used.

Using a pretend kitchen set, pretend food or even pots and pans, try the following:

To focus on “eat”: Prepare and eat different pretend foods. This helps children learn lots of different names for foods and can help you focus on the word “eat” as you eat bananas, eat cake or eat sandwiches.

To focus on “on”: Once you are done preparing your pretend feast, set the table or a picnic blanket. Put the cups on the blanket, the plates on the table, seat yourself on a chair etc…

To focus on “hungry”: Bring more people, dolls or animals into your pretend play. Mom is hungry, dad is hungry, bear is hungry, bear is still hungry.

Playing is a way for children to expand their vocabulary, so be imaginative and have fun!