7 Great Activities to Improve Your Toddler's Vocabulary

mom reading to toddler son

For the first few years of your baby's life, you’ve become attuned to every single nuance of his or her cries. You know which cry means they’re hungry, which means they need to be changed, and which means they are in pain or uncomfortable. As they move into toddler age, you may notice your baby starting to babble in a language that may be completely foreign to you, but perfectly eloquent in his own head. Truth be told, babies are usually ready to communicate by methods other than crying way before they’ve actually learned the words to do so. How else do you explain a pacifier being referred to a binky?

As they explore the world around them, babies have the talents of their prehistoric ancestors to assign names to the things around them. Then it’s up to you to go from figuring out their cries to figuring out what the heck a ‘baba’ and ‘mow mow’ is. In case your curious, ‘baba’ is another word for a pacifier, and ‘mow mow’ is a cat because cats ‘meow’. See? Your baby will most likely name something after its function as that’s the easiest way for him to remember what it is. Of course, this won’t help you much when you’re trying to explain to your child why a chair is called a chair and not a ‘sit’.

When you notice them beginning to make up words to reference things around them, it’s time to step in and start teaching them the right words for things.

The good news is there are literally dozens of ways you could help improve your child’s vocabulary. For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at seven of them.

mom reading to kids


For Cheryl, a technical support person in Product Engineering from Rockville, Maryland, reading to her son was one of the methods she found most effective. As you sit down with your children, talk to them about the story you’re about to read together. As they look at the pictures, try to engage them in what they think is happening in the pictures before you read the actual words. This develops the connections between what the see and what they hear. With repetition, they are able to memorize certain words in reference to specific images.


Cheryl continues, “Whatever he learned at daycare, games, for example, I would ask him to teach me.” Make sure to ask a question so that he has to use his words to explain. Give them the time they need to get their words out and if they made mistakes, make sure to wait until after they’ve answered before repeating the answer back to them like you’re trying to make sure you understood. Jumping in to correct them as they are talking might chip away at their self-esteem and make them less likely to want to try again.

mom and toddler talking

No Baby Talk Allowed

Children will often revert back to ‘baby talk’ because it’s comfortable and familiar. They may feel that learning all these foreign new words simply takes too long when they have their own language that you’ve learned over time that will get their point across just as well. Sometimes, using this baby talk back to them will show them how silly it sounds. This was the case with Cheryl’s son. “I’d baby talk with him, and he said I sounded silly. I think it helped him.”

Denise DiBuo, a 26-year-old stay at home mother from Etobicoke, Ontario adds, “I would tell them ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying. Please use your grown-up word.' I find that when they want to tell you something and if you won’t answer them or pay attention when they’re using their baby word then they are always willing to use the proper way of pronouncing words.”


Maybe it’s the repetitions and rhyming, but songs are useful tools for helping a child expand their vocabulary. For Denise, this was an effective method for her children. “They seem to remember more by using the word in a song.” Have fun with it by making up your own words to familiar melodies. If you have a recorder, you can tape your child singing along with you and give him a chance to make up his own verses.

The ‘What’s This?’ Game

Alison Brown, a 26-year-old court reporter from Fayette, MO used the world both inside and outside to help her son learn the proper names for things. “When we would look at books, either I would name something and ask him to point to it or I would point and ask him to name. We did the same thing out at the store or other places we went.”

Word Of The Day

Pick a word of the day and explain what it means. Encourage your child to use that word as many as possible correctly. You could make a game of it and set a limit like throughout the day: he must use the word five times the right way and he’ll get a treat like a sticker. Pick a new word every day and at the end of the week, if he’s used his words correctly, take him out for ice cream or another special treat.

Show And Tell

Take your child out on a walk or out to the park and have them pick up interesting looking things like a pretty flower or rock or maybe if you’re at the beach they can pick up a seashell or marbles or coins. When you get home, ask your child to spread them out and tell you about his findings.

It doesn’t matter which specific method you use, you may find that one that worked today won’t work tomorrow but might work the day after. The point is to keep trying, and soon you’ll learn the dichotomy every parent faces. You want your child to start talking but then once they do…