10 tips to help children understand the meaning of words

early intervention Sep 21, 2022

(Photo 132965293 © Fizkes | Dreamstime.com)

10 tips to help children understand the meaning of words

When we support children who are not speaking yet, we tend to be anxious for them to say their first wordsHowever, we must first focus on understanding language and the meaning of words, as children need to understand words before using them to communicate.  

In today's blog, you will learn ten tips to help young children develop language comprehension. 

  1. Keep language simple when talking to your child or student. Use short sentences and stress keywords in the sentence. By doing this, your child is more likely to learn the meaning of those words. For example, avoid long sentences such as "it's time to get ready for bed, and you are going to have a bath first"; instead, say "bath time". By simplifying language, you are helping your child learn new words faster. 
  2. Talk to your child about the here and now, things that he can see or experience in the moment. Talk about a ball as you play with it, or say jumping as your child jumps on the trampoline. If your child can see the object or action and hear the word at the same time, she will be able to connect the word with the meaning more easily.

  3.  Whenever your child communicates something to you with gestures, pointing or behaviour, say the words for what your child is requesting. For example, if your child brings you his empty bottle for you to fill it up with milk, say "more milk," so your child gradually learns meaningful words.

  4. Photo albums are almost a thing of the past, but I still recommend parents and teachers to make albums for children. Print pictures of your child's everyday life. Pictures of mom, dad, the family pet, the child's teddy, blanket, ball, and other favourite toys will delight your child and allow you to teach those words in a fun way.

  5. Create flashcards with pictures of everyday objects and toys. Also, make a postbox with a cardboard box and encourage your child to post the images. As your child looks at each picture, label it for him. Say the word a few times. For example, as your child looks at a picture of a car, you can say, "It's a car – car in the box – bye bye car", so your child can hear the word a few times as he looks at the corresponding image. 

  6. If your child attends preschool, ask your teachers to make a photo album about school. You can help your child learn vocabulary related to the classroom. I recently did a photo album for one of my students to teach her action words; there were photos of her in the classroom singing, colouring, sitting, running, playing, etc. My student loves her book about school, and she has learned the meaning of all those action words. 

  7. Comment on what you are doing with your child and use simple words to describe what you do in everyday routines. For example, as you prepare breakfast, explain what you are doing "let's get the bowl, put cereal in, pour milk, let's eat". Doing this allows your child to hear vocabulary related to everyday routines. 

  8. Gather everyday objects for your child and play the "mystery bag" game. Label each object as your child takes it out of the bag. This game is also fun to play during circle time in preschool, where all children have a turn taking something out of the "mystery bag" and saying what it is. 

  9. You can often test if your child understands a particular word. Ask your child, "where is teddy?" and observe your child's reaction. If your child doesn't respond, you can react for her and say, "here is teddy!" as you point to or get the teddy. 

  10. Using hand signs or pictures can help children learn the meaning of words. Signs and pictures act as visual cues, aiding in acquiring language. Consider using visual supports with your child.

As parents and teachers, I understand that we are anxious for children to say words. But to do that, they need to understand the meaning of words first.

Focus on your child learning vocabulary for now. 

Your child may need lots of repetition and opportunities to learn new words, so don't be afraid to say words again and again, as this is how your child will learn. 

Your turn: What other activities are you doing with your child or student to teach the meaning of words? We'd love to learn from you, so please comment below.

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