How To Develop Your Toddler's Vocabulary

Story Telling and Stickers

By Adina Kayton September 22, 2022

When my brother and I grew up in Romania we had a couple of classics that our dad would read to us. Among them were Peter Pan, Grimm's Fairy Tales and stories by romanian authors like Ion Creanga who filled our childhood with joy. No illustrations were needed for us to soar through the clouds with our favorite characters. 

Our children today have a library that the child inside of me only dreamed of, books with colorful pictures, pop-ups, sensory pages, black and white pages for those young newborn eyes who have yet to discover color. And now, we as parents want to introduce them to new words and add to their ever expanding vocabulary. 

A child with a larger vocabulary will have significantly less tantrums because they are able to express their wants and needs and can be understood by those around them. Although tantrums can have many causes, a lack of self expression,especially for our young 2 year olds, can turn into a screaming, throw themselves on the ground in the middle of the grocery store kind of tantrum. Let's avoid those, shall we? 

One great way to add words to your child's vocabulary is through books and storytelling. You don't need a large quantity of books, five to ten books are plenty for your little 12-36 month old to enjoy and have a favorite. Make sure you select appropriate topics that will not overwhelm them, like "The Nice Book" by David Ezra Stein. Each page can be pointed to and explained through actions. Say the words, do the action and point to the picture where they are doing the action as well. If you pick up a book that has more than one sentence on each page, that may be too much for your 18 month old. Just point to the picture and tell them one to two word descriptions of what is happening. For example: Oh look, there's a ball, can you find the dog in the picture?

Reading a book will not automatically insert knowledge into our children's brain, they are just pictures and print on paper after all. We must make the outside connection to what is real, what they can feel, taste and see fully in front of them. 

Books about emotions are another great tool for you as a parent to start exploring early on. I appreciate books that use real images of people/things as they give our children a better understanding of the real world. The book "Making Faces: A book of first emotions" is a great example of how to teach your child about emotions through pictures. A technique I have always used as a teacher and a mother is "Name it to Tame it". In a nutshell this means if your child is feeling frustrated about that spilled bubble solution accident at the playground, you can get down to their level, squat down as low as you need to in order to get to eye level- you need to make sure they know you are listening, you care and you respect them and then tell them "I see you are feeling frustrated about the bubble solution" - you named it, now it can be tamed, they know what is going on and it doesn't feel like the most confusing time in their little hearts anymore. Now you can work on a solution: "I'm sorry that happened, let's see what other fun toys we have in the stroller".  

Books give us tools we can use on a daily basis, we need to incorporate them in our daily routine and I don't just mean bedtime. Have books next to toys, have them in the stroller for a quick bench stop, by the bed and in the suitcase for a trip! 

If you want to incorporate fine motor skills development in your young toddler while also adding to their vocabulary then I highly recommend sticker books with realistic stickers. Our one and a half year old loves to explore with peeling stickers and sticking them on her arm or mine while we talk about what they are. Some research suggests that 18 month olds learn two to five new words every day! 

So get those books out before bedtime comes around and create a new love for books for your child. One day they will be staying up late because they want to read just one more page and you will know it was your hard work that got them there.