8 Fun Ways to Build a Child's Vocabulary

Help your preschooler learn new words to establish early reading skills

Before a child can learn to read, they need to have a good, well-rounded understanding of basic words and what they mean. And while that may sound a bit overwhelming, there are very easy ways that you can build a preschooler's vocabulary and introduce early reading concepts. In fact, you probably do a whole lot of them normally, throughout the course of your day or week without even noticing it.

From reading aloud to your preschooler to simply engaging in conversation, you are helping your little one learn words—how they work, what they mean, how they are the same, how they are different and much more.

Parents can help with language skills even when their child has speech delays.  In fact, the more that parents do to help children overcome challenges, the better prepared the child will be for kindergarten.

Parents of children with disorders such as autism, apraxia of speech, and stuttering issues may want to consult with a speech therapist before getting started. Often, therapists can recommend effective techniques for building spoken and receptive language skills.

Here are some easy and fun vocabulary-building activities that you can do every day that will help you teach your child new words.


Visit the Library

increase your preschooler's vocabulary

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If you are looking for a great place to start building your preschooler's vocabulary and early reading skills, look no further than your local library. Research shows a strong correlation between library use and literacy-building skills in young children. If you aren't sure what to do when you get there, ask your librarian for help.

Just being around a place where there are a lot of books and literary references will go a long way to helping your preschooler feel comfortable about reading. 

Children's libraries often have fun and engaging events and activities for young children, which will expose them to new words and give them an opportunity to socialize.


Substitute Synonyms

An easy way to introduce your child to new words is to use them yourself. After all, you are your child's first and best role model. 

One way to do this is to become a walking thesaurus and substitute synonyms for various words. While synonyms are typically words that mean the same thing, often times a synonym is more descriptive than the original word.

When it comes to preschool vocabulary building, enormous is always better than big. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Cold: Cool, chilly, bitter, freezing, raw
  • Hot: Warm, humid, boiling, tropical
  • Smart: Clever, bright, brilliant, wise

Thesaurus.com is a great resource for finding synonyms.


Teach and Reinforce the Alphabet

Singing the ABC song provides children who are learning the alphabet with some reinforcement and confidence. The bonus: it's a great way to keep your preschooler busy on long car rides, in waiting rooms, or while waiting in lines.

You can also play games using the alphabet, such as I'm Going On a Picnic or the Alphabet Game, where you name items that start with letters in alphabetical order. Your little one may also enjoy playing learning games online that focus on building alphabet skills.


Use Descriptive Words

When it comes to increasing your child's vocabulary, more is better. The more words that your child hears on a daily basis, the more she'll learn, absorb and eventually put to use themself.

Try to use a variety of descriptive words in daily conversation.

For example, when describing a fabric pattern, try using words such as unusual, relaxing, or creative. These words may be beyond a toddler's understanding right now, but by using them in the proper context you'll make them more comprehensible.


Make Labels

If you want your preschooler to learn more words, then make it easy. In addition to saying them often, show them too. Build on their basic comprehension of well-known words by using a label maker to name commonly used items so they learn to recognize what the word looks like. For example, if her toys are separated into different bins of like items, label the bins, such as blocks, dolls, cars, books, etc.


Become a Super Sorter

Seeing is learning when it comes to introducing new words. Teaching your preschooler how to sort and categorize will help their logical thinking and build their vocabulary.

A good way to help preschoolers learn new words is to take what they are hearing and help them to visualize it. Use flashcards or cut pictures out of magazines for this game.


Practice Rhymes

Rhyming is not only fun, but it is also an easy way to get your toddler thinking about how different words can relate to each other. How many rhyming words can your preschooler come up with? The fat cat sat on the mat. The white kite flew at night.

Dr. Seuss books are a great resource for learning rhymes, such as Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham.


Read Aloud Together

Besides being a wonderful way to spend quality time with your preschooler, reading aloud is a great way to expose them to new words.

Choose books that are of interest to your preschooler but that use words that are slightly above their understanding.

Together you can work through what they mean, by using context—the other words on the page and any pictures that might be on the page as well. 

A Word From Verywell

As you can see, increasing your child's vocabulary isn't difficult, but it is necessary as they begin their journey to reading. In some cases, such as taking your child to the library or labeling items in your home, preplanning is required. But for the most part, helping your child learn and incorporate new words is just a natural part of your day.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cortese R. The Child Mind Institute. Helping Toddlers Expand Language Skills.

  2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Late Blooming or Language Problem?

  3. Chen P, Rea C, Shaw R, Bottino CJ. Associations between Public Library Use and Reading Aloud among Families with Young Children. J Pediatr. 2016;173:221-227.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.03.016

Additional Reading

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.