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How important are the early literacy skills young children develop? According to a recent study, two-year-olds with a larger oral vocabulary enter kindergarten with greater academic and behavioral functioning than their peers. They have higher levels of math and literacy achievement, and they are also good at self-regulating. Helping infants and toddlers increase their vocabulary skills in their first few years of life is a crucial part of ensuring their success in kindergarten and beyond. Here are a few ideas for increasing children’s vocabulary you can incorporate in your infant/toddler classroom:

1. Utilize Storytime

Make sure you take advantage of the opportunities storytime presents to share new words with the infants and/or toddlers in your care. Amy Brooks Read and Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting share the following tips in their book Time for a Story:

  • Pick out a word from a book, rhyme, or song. Explain unfamiliar words and introduce a less familiar word if children are already familiar with the word you pick.

  • Add descriptive words into the songs and stories you share.

  • Have children repeat less familiar words.

  • Bring in the real items of pictures shown in the book you’re reading to children.

  • Ask questions, and pause to give children time to respond, even if the response is babbling, cooing, or gestures.

2. Incorporate More Information Books

Read and Ghoting also recommend using information books (books that offer factual information about children and the world around them) and any other children’s books that feature words young children don’t typically hear in daily conservation as sources for new words.

3. Work on Scaffolding a Child’s Knowledge

Building on what children already know is an essential part of helping them increase their vocabulary knowledge. If a child says a word (e.g., ball, milk, toy, etc.), you can build upon their knowledge of that word by asking them a question or using the word in a sentence with adjectives and other descriptive words. For example, "You want the round, red ball?" or "I think you're asking me for a delicious glass of cold milk." would be good responses if a child says "ball" or "milk".

4. Encourage Parents to Read to Their Young Children

Many educators and professionals would argue that nothing is more important to a child’s early literacy development than parents reading to their children. Give parents tips that they can use as they read to their children, and encourage parents to take their children to the library and attend any special storytimes for infants and toddlers the library may offer.

Check out the Language Skills category in our Infant and Toddler Care section for a variety of resources and materials you can use to help young children develop their language skills.

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