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Effective Strategies for Enhancing Vocabulary Development in Children


Photo: Michelle Coughlan, Little Kite Photography

Start with Verbs

Verbs, words that illustrate actions or what someone is doing, like 'run', 'push', or 'live', are essential building blocks of language. We can't craft a single sentence without them! For children to progress towards forming more complex sentences, they need to have a broad verb vocabulary.


Teaching children verbs is essential. Verbs are central to language development as they facilitate the progression from single words to more complex sentence structures. They are action words that illustrate what is happening, allowing children to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and observations about the world around them more effectively.


Here are a few reasons why we focus on verbs.


Foundation for Sentence Building:

Verbs are the building blocks of sentences. They serve as the action or the state of being in a sentence, tying the subject to the object. By learning verbs, children are better equipped to form coherent sentences.


Expressing Thoughts and Emotions:

Verbs allow children to express their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Whether they're 'running' in the park, 'feeling' happy, or 'wanting' a toy, verbs enable them to communicate these experiences.


Enhancing Communication:

Understanding and using verbs enriches a child's communication. It allows them to share their experiences, tell stories, and ask questions, fostering better interaction with others.


Improving Understanding of the World:

Verbs help children understand different activities, processes, and states of being, enhancing their comprehension of the world.


Boosting Cognitive Development:

Learning verbs involves understanding the concept of time, as verbs change forms based on tense. This aspect of learning verbs aids in cognitive development.


Recent research underscores the importance of diversity over quantity when teaching verbs to young children. Introducing a wide range of verbs enriches a child's expressive language skills and prepares them for more sophisticated language use in the future.



Learning Verbs with Playdough


Making Playdough

Grab a simple recipe like this one from FamilyEducation and get started. As you're 'measuring', 'pouring', 'stirring', 'mixing', 'combining', 'adding', and 'kneading' the play-doh, ensure you verbalize each step. Performing the action while saying the verb or having your child do so aids in understanding the meaning of these words. So, what colour of playdoh are you cooking up?


Playdough Adventures

Play-Doh is a universal favourite, a remarkable tool to help toddlers and preschoolers learn new verbs. Even if your child doesn't intend to create anything specific, they're just revelling in the tactile exploration! As they 'squish', 'roll', 'mash', 'hit', 'stab', or 'poke' the play-doh, describe their actions using these verbs. If they're a bit older and attempting to make something, they might be 'carving' or 'sculpting'. While playing alongside them, describe your actions and encourage them to respond without overwhelming them with questions. Above all, ensure the activity stays enjoyable! What play-doh masterpieces are you crafting?


Playdough Clean-Up Time!

Creating and playing with playdough can be a whirlwind of fun, but it can also create quite a mess! Remember, every moment is a learning opportunity for your little ones. The clean-up process is a perfect time to learn verbs like 'gather', 'wash', 'wipe', or 'wrap'. Act out these words with your child during clean-up for a hands-on understanding of these verbs.


Broadening the Spectrum

Whilst we've been focused on playdough, this strategy of word learning can be applied to numerous everyday situations. The English language often provides common verbs like 'look' and a cluster of similar but more detailed verbs like 'stare', 'glare', 'gaze', and 'observe'.


Books are an excellent source to introduce these verbs. For example, Alison Lester's book 'Imagine', which I've been reading recently, uses fantastic verbs like 'prowl' and 'stampede' to describe how animals move, enriching the storytelling experience.


Verbs help our kiddos share their stories, feelings, and ideas. They're like a toolbox for kids to express themselves better and understand their surroundings.


Remember, it's not about the number of verbs they know but the variety. So, keep adding new action words to their vocabulary.


Every day is a new adventure, and every activity is a learning opportunity. Focus on your actions because knowing more verbs today means our little people can express themselves more effectively tomorrow.


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