Vocabulary is vital

Building children’s vocabulary in the early years is crucial as it impacts on their social and emotional development and all areas of learning.

A good vocabulary (the number of words you know and can say) is really important for all children. It’s an important building block for helping children to talk in sentences and it’s also really useful for learning to read.

Research tells us that a child’s vocabulary when they are five years old can tell us how well they do at school at 11. So, helping young children to develop a good vocabulary is vital.

Vocabulary milestones

Children’s vocabulary usually develops rapidly and we expect them to understand lots more words than they say:

  • By two years old, we expect children to say about 50 words and understand between 200 and 500.
  • Then by three years old they’ll typically use about 300 words and be able to recognise about 1,000 words.
  • During the next 12 months their vocabulary will really start to grow. They will typically be learning, and you will hear them starting to use, new words daily.
  • By the time a child reaches five years old they’ll know and use as many as 2,500 words.

We are aware of a significant word gap between children who experience a rich language environment and those who don’t. Any word gap can continue to grow as children with a limited vocabulary learn new words at a slower rate.

Developing vocabulary

Reading stories aloud and looking at picture books together is one of the best ways in which you can support children’s written and spoken language and is a good way to expand their vocabulary.

Studies show that children who share books regularly with an adult in the preschool years  learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more successful readers in school.

Early Soundplay stories, for example, are designed to support children’s vocabulary development through:

• sound play that highlights the word structure – drawing attention to rhyme and syllables helps children remember new words.
• multiple repetitions to build their knowledge and understanding of word meanings.
• a wider range of words than they meet in conversation.
• opportunities for interaction and talking about the story, to hear the words again and again.

A range of props linked to a story can support the learning of, for example, animal names and they also support the retelling of a story.

Vocabulary in context

Stories that are easy to relate to the children’s own knowledge and experience can provide a springboard for a range of related activities giving children opportunities to hear and use new words in different contexts.

Autumn is a lovely time of year for activities that lend themselves to learning new words in context:

  • Dress up warm to go outdoors – coats, scarves, gloves and wellies
  • Go for a walk to collect a variety of leaves, fruits and seeds – acorns, conkers and pine cones.
  • Make sure you have small bags or buckets to collect the children’s finds in.
  • As you look for and find leaves you can talk about the different colours – brown, red, orange, gold and yellow.
  • When you get back lay out your leaves and compare the range of textures, sizes and shapes.
  • Encourage the children to create a collage of leaves or to create leaf prints – paint the back of the leaves, as the veins are more defined, press the painted leaves onto paper and then peel off.

Early Soundplay stories, such as Clarabelle’s Scarf, are designed to support vocabulary development and the Clarabelle’s Scarf Bumper Story Bundles provide wooden animals, props, guidance, language activities and an MP3 audiobook to give the children plenty of opportunities to hear and use new words.

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