When children start unlocking new words you suddenly get to meet an whole new side of your little one you didn’t know. Whether they use them correctly or not (my one year old spontaneously says “turtle” at random moments throughout the day) early vocabulary allows us to see what’s going on in their little brains.

The few first words are often a mixture of family names, few random ones like “doggy” “baby” “banana” and the highly favoured “no!”. But after those first few, where do you go next? Word learning comes down to hearing it… seeing it… understanding it… and hearing it again! Let me break those down for you…

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4 Steps of Teaching New Words to Your Child

1. Hearing New Words

If they don’t hear it, they won’t say it. Simple as that. We have to get involved and get talking in order for our children to hear as many words as possible. We of course don’t want to talk at them all day, but a friendly running commentary throughout the day where we label things we see, hold family conversations and chat away whilst doing daily tasks allows our children to gently and naturally hear words and sentences.

Family Speech Blubs

2. Seeing New Words

When we store words in our head, we often store a visual for the word with it to help us remember it. Having a visual of what the word refers to is a strong and effective way of learning and remembering words. Therefore not only naming e.g. animals, but also showing the animal will support your child to take the word into their vocabulary. If they continue to hear the word e.g. ball when they see the object (ball) then it strengthens the relationship between the object and the word. This in time should support them to see the object and then name it themselves.

3. Understand New Words

Words are learnt and remembered best by the child understand them and the context around them. When a child learns a word e.g. elephant… they not only learn that word but they learn and store it using lots of other information e.g. what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, where it lives, what category is it etc. When we teach vocabulary we must try and include some of these elements to increase their understanding and support their learning, retention and retrieval.

4. Hear New Words Again

They may know the word and maybe have even used it, but it continues to be important to use and model the words our children to hear so they have examples of the words being used in different contexts and sentences.

Now we know how… let’s think about what!

100 Words to Start With

Here are 100 words that I think can be great to start with. They are a mixture of fun, functional, objects, actions and concepts (they aren’t in any particular order).


  • Hello
  • Bye
  • Thank you


  • Banana
  • Cake
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Biscuit
  • Juice / milk


  • Cow
  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Sheep
  • Horse
  • Bear


  • Mummy
  • Daddy
  • Grandma
  • Grandad
  • Baby


  • Blue
  • Red
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Pink


  • Standing
  • Sitting
  • Clapping
  • Dancing
  • Drinking
  • Read
  • Hide
  • Fly
  • Drive
  • Run
  • Walk
  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Jump
  • Wait
  • Finished


Body Parts

  • Hand
  • Feet
  • Eye
  • Nose
  • Mouth


  • Yes / No
  • Up / Down
  • Open / Close
  • Big / Small
  • Fast / Slow
  • Happy / Sad
  • Stop / Go


  • Door
  • Window
  • Bed
  • Bath
  • Table
  • Chair
  • Key


  • Spoon
  • Bowl
  • Water
  • Cup
  • Cooker
  • Mix


  • Sun
  • Rain
  • Tree
  • Flower
  • Leaf

Types of Buildings

  • House
  • Shop
  • Farm
  • School

Other Words

  • Hat
  • Shoe
  • Ball
  • Bubble
  • Book
  • More
  • Again
  • Where?
  • Who?
  • Phone

How To Engage Your Child in Word Learning

The easy answer is in play and in the day to day. Try out a few of these activities and incorporate some simple vocabulary. You can use the list above for ideas but make sure the words are relevant and functional to your child e.g. you might have a pet’s name they are motivated to learn.

word learning while playing shop
  • Build a farm and name the animals and what they are doing
  • Set up a shop and name the food
  • Race cars and talk about fast/slow, colour of cars and types of vehicle
  • Build towers and name the colours, name the heights (big/small) and related actions (build/fall/knock)
  • Play dress up and name the clothes, colours and where they are going
  • Look at family photos and name who is in the them and what they are doing
  • Go shopping together and name the foods you see
  • Make / set up a house for their toys naming the furniture and what they are doing in their house
  • Play Simon says and name the actions e.g. jumping, clapping, sleeping
  • Sort out their animals into colours, where they live, if they are fast or slow
  • Throw balls/beanbags and describe its action e.g. high, low, fast, slow, up, down
  • Sing “head shoulders knees and toes” to label the body parts
  • Hide items in the house and look for them together, naming what you are looking for and where it might be hidden
  • Play “what’s in the bag” with object for each of you to describe and name
  • Make a simple written/picture menu for snack so they can look at options and name their choice
  • Given them a little bit of a favourite food and model asking for “more” before they receive more
  • Put favourite toys in a hard to open box and model requesting “open” before they can access it
  • Look at books and name pictures that you see
  • Set up a teddy bear picnic where you can name the toys, the food and the actions
  • Draw round body parts like hands and feet and name related vocabulary e.g. fingers, toes, hand, wrist, palm
  • Introduce new objects to bath time e.g. cups, spoons, plates for them to name and play with in a new setting
  • Print out pictures of familiar people’s faces, cut into big simple shapes to make a puzzle of their faces which your child can complete and name the person and facial features.
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