The Best Way to Build Vocabulary in Children

Reading is the very best way to build vocabulary. Read aloud to your kids and encourage them to read independently when they can.

Father reading a book to his daughter

What do you think is the most effective way to build a vocabulary in children? If you are familiar with me or my blog at all, you might be able to guess what I am about to promote…ready…


Talking to children is nice. I remember one day when Brayden was 9 months old and I was feeding him at a family function. This was a family function on my Dad’s side, which meant that there were a whole lot of people around. As I was feeding him, my grandmother, who raised seven children, commented, “You know you have to talk to him while you feed him or he will never learn to talk!”

I was a little amused by her comment and muttered that I didn’t want him to learn to talk. Ever. When she said, “What?” I said, “Oh nothing!” I can be a little sassy sometimes, I admit.

Of course I talked to Brayden while I fed him. My aunts and uncles will testify that I know how to talk, and me alone with a baby all day means that baby is getting to hear my voice constantly. 

Yes, talking to a child builds vocabulary. Conversation is a great way to build vocabulary. But do you know what is even more powerful?


Why Reading Builds Vocabulary

The reason is quite simple,

“Whereas an adult uses only nine rare words (per thousand) when talking with a three-year-old, there are three times as many in a children’s book and more than seven times as many in a newspaper.”

“…oral communication (including TV script) is decidedly inferior to print when building vocabulary.” The Read-Aloud Handbook, page 16.

As your children get a little older, you will be amazed at the words they know. At Brayden’s Kindergarten assessment, he was given a series of pictures to look at and then choose what word the picture was showing. I was shocked as he got all of them right. I didn’t know he knew those words. 

Something to take note of here is that a book introduces new vocabulary words to your child. Therefore, you don’t want to change the words as you read to make the words “easier” for your child to understand. Read the books as written (pending some word you don’t agree with). 

This is also strong support for reading regularly to children from a young age. Think of the hours of reading your child can have once school-aged. Think of all of those vocabulary words he can have heard! 

You don’t have to have a million books to do this. Take advantage of free public libraries or book mobiles if you have them. I know not everyone has these things for whatever reason. Search thrift stores, garage sales, and trade with friends. Buy online. Give a book at each birthday and each Christmas.

When Brayden was a baby, we owned only a small number of children’s books (probably 20 or less). Today, we have hundreds. We built it slowly. Brayden is no worse off for having spent his first year rotating through the same books over and over (though my sanity may have suffered a small bit–I still made it through okay 😉 ). 

So read, read, read!

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5 thoughts on “The Best Way to Build Vocabulary in Children”

  1. As a school librarian, I second this information!!! IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO READ TO THEM! My 22 month has learned so many words & phrases from the books. It cracks me up when I hear her say something that I know came from a book!! Mem Fox (an expert on reading) recommends reading 3 stories per day (or the same story 3 times) from birth forward. That's really not a lot! And your kids will learn how to focus and sit thru stories the more they read. My daughter amazes people because she can sit and be read to for so long–but it's only because she's been read to from birth! Thanks, Val, for posting this.

  2. And while I have WAY too many books, my daughter wants to read the same ones over and over. So if you don't have a lot of books, it's not a big deal! They'll thrive on the ones they do have! My daughter loves Sandra Boynton books–they are too funny!

  3. Haha, I am in that boat with my 9 month old. I insisted we have at least SOME children's books because our library is about 2 miles away and I don't have a car during the day. ANYWAY, so we have like 15 books and I am getting tired of them! Plus my baby never seems interested! I keep reading to him every day but when will he sit still and seem interested??!

  4. Kendra, lol–oh I remember several years ago being giddy for Christmas because my kids were getting new books! I was getting so sick of reading the same books over and over again.


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