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Introducing New Words to Toddlers


My youngest child usually likes peaches. I say usually because she’s a toddler and so it’s her prerogative to change her preferences 174 times a minute.

The other day, her big sister and dad were sleeping and I had the luxury of cooking breakfast with a quiet(er) house. I decided to switch things up a bit, and pan fry some peaches in butter to give the kids an extra special treat.

When cooked to caramelized perfection, I shared them with my sweet-smiling toddler, who then stared at them with a look of complete confusion and threw them off her highchair tray in disgust.

I happened to be emptying the dishwasher at the moment the peaches took a nose dive. I noticed a kids fork in my hand. My little one LOVES to use cutlery. I mean, anything she sees her big sister with is, surely, super fun and a must have.

So I offered a fork, and held my breath… Tada! Fork in peach and peach in mouth.

It turns out that, when presented with something new (cooked peaches), my little one benefitted from also using something familiar (a fork) to help her feel comfortable.


The same goes for introducing new words to early talkers.

Pairing new words with a new activity or person can be challenging and intimidating for some kids. In many cases kids will clam up when presented with new things this way.


If you’re looking to introduce new vocabulary to your little one, try these tricks instead:


1. Pair a new word with a familiar activity

Example: You’ve always used the word “bubbles” when you’re playing with the bubble wand in the backyard. This time you introduce the word “pop”. Activity stays the same but the new word is introduced.

2. Pair a new word with a familiar place

Example: You regularly take a walk by the lake near your house. Your child always looks intently at the lake, watching the waves, which you label as “water”. This time you introduce the word “waves”. Place stays the same but the new word is introduced.

3. Pair a familiar word with a new toy or activity

Example: You’ve been using the word “bubbles” when you play with the bubble wand in the backyard. This time, you use the word “bubbles” when you add a little dish soap to the water table in the backyard. Word stays the same but a new activity associated with that word is introduced.

4. Pair a familiar word with a new place

Example: You label the “waves” you watch on the lake during your daily walks together. This time, you label the “waves” you make in the pool or bath. Word stays the same but a new play associated with that word is introduced.


By keeping a familiar activity, item, place or word in the equation, your child is more likely to retain, understand and use this new vocabulary going forward.


And if all else fails, introduce a fork.


Rebecca Wong Kai Pun

Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO



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