Skip to content ↓

Developing Children's Vocabulary

Helping children learn new words in your early years setting

A good vocabulary (knowing and understanding words) is really important for children when they are learning to talk; it has an impact in lots of different ways.

I know learning new words is important for children but why?

A good vocabulary (the number of words you know and can say) is really important for all children. It is an important building block for helping children to talk in sentences (and beyond!) but it’s also really useful for learning to read. In fact, research tells us that it affects a child’s school performance — a child’s vocabulary when they are five years old can tell us how well they do at school at 11. So, helping children to develop a good vocabulary is vital.

Is there anything else it can help with?

Knowing and using lots of different words is also really important when children are learning to read and write. They need words to be able to understand what they read, and to be able to make guesses when they can’t understand. They work things out using the words they know...their vocabulary. It helps them to be able to write in a more interesting way, and to explain themselves to other people.

How many words should children know by when? 

Are there guidelines that I can share with parents?

Yes, we do have typical milestones for how and when children learn new words. 


· Children say their first words about the age of one (although they understand them for some time before this).

· By about 18 months children should use about 20 words, but they’ll understand more

· By two years old, we expect children to say 50 words and understand between 200 and 500.

· By three years old they’ll be able to use about 300 words.

· By the time a child reaches five years old they’ll know and use as many as 2,500 words.

Children’s vocabulary develops rapidly, and we expect them to understand lots more words than they say (but this does change as they get older).

Is there anything else I can do to help children to learn new words?

Learning new words is tricky. There are lots of things children have to be able to do to understand and say a new word and get it right. They have to remember the sounds they hear and the order they come in, they have to find a meaning for the word, and then they have to work out where it might go in a sentence.

There are lots of different things you can do to help children’s vocabulary development. Here’s just a few:

· Having a child’s attention is important for word learning. Saying an object’s name while helping a child to look at it helps them to learn and remember names for objects that they haven’t seen before.

· We know that having words and objects together is really helpful for early language development, from around six to 18 months. So, it helps your child to see the object you are talking about, as well as hearing its name. This helps them to make the connection and gives you the chance to explain what new words mean. Young children will learn more from seeing, feeling and touching an object than from a picture of it. For example, if you say cat when they see a cat they know that the sounds c-a-t make up a word, and it matches the fluffy animal with four legs in front of them.

· Watch what children are exploring and doing then you can say the name of an object or action. This way you’re modelling the word for them — saying what something is called, showing them the way to say it and letting them know the speech sounds that make up the word. For example, in the home corner you talk about them ‘putting baby to bed...she’s under the blanket’.


Contact Us

Addison Dr, Lincoln LN2 4LQ

01522 531876