3 Ways to Expand a Child’s Vocabulary

First, a reflection…

I can’t believe my little baby is off to Kindergarten in just 6 weeks. Wow! Time really does fly! I think he’s ready for school …and has been for a long time now. He’s as social as the most extroverted butterfly and he loves to learn!!

Judging by his preschool report card I think his teacher feels the same way!

Now, before I go on, I have to apologize in advance if sharing this pic comes off as me bragging about my clever little boy… I’m only sharing his preschool report card here because it inspired me to write this post on ways to expand a child’s vocabulary!

My son’s teacher has no idea about my Picture Thesauruses  so it meant so much to me that this comment came from a place of unbiased observation.  Now, you’re probably thinking: Does this girl just shove all these words down her son’s throat to make him sound “smart”?  No. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, when I read this comment, I was a bit surprised myself because it’s not like I set time aside every day and say, “Ok kid, let’s learn some new words”. Bah, how boring would that be!!

This report card comment made me ask myself, “what was I doing right?!” because I didn’t really think I was doing anything extraordinary (or at least not consciously).

3 ways to expand child's vocabulary

How to Expand a Child’s Vocabulary

Here’s what I think contributes to my boy’s incredible vocabulary and I encourage you to try these tips with your own kids whether they are your students or your own children.

1. Read to them… a lot.  

I spend a lot of time reading to my boy.  When I was a stay at home mom, I remember spending hours curled up in bed with him, reading until I needed the nap more than he did, lol. We all know the importance of reading to children, so I won’t go into too much detail about this one. But I will say, his love of reading and listening to stories has definitely impacted his vocabulary.

Here’s an interesting infographic for you to ponder:How reading improves vocabulary

In my class, I work on building my students’ stamina when it comes to reading. I will talk more about that in another post!

2. Use “BIG” words when you communicate with them:

The second reason is significant because I don’t think adults do this enough.

From the time my boy was an infant I would NEVER dumb things down for him. If he asked a question about something, I would explain my answer using adult terms.  I do this in my teaching as well. Sure, I’ll make the concept easier to attain by giving fun, relate-able examples (usually by providing visuals), but the vocabulary I use remains the same.  Some might think ‘big words’ are difficult for young kids to say but… think about the word Tyrannosaurus Rex!! I can barely even spell that word but I hear kids saying it all the time!

* this image can be found in my picture thesaurus “Big” – a word that kids tend to overuse a lot!
Tyrannosaurus Rex is also a tricky word to say (never mind spell), but kids as young as 2 or 3 know this word because they’ve been exposed to it so often. And THAT’s the key – the more we expose young kids to ‘big’ words, the better!

3. Use A Picture Thesaurus to Expand Vocabulary

Originally, the intended audience for my books never meant to include preschoolers, but after noticing how much my son loved looking at the pictures and hearing me talk about them, I realized these books could be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of ages (from preschool up to grades 5 or 6).

This realization happened by accident!

My kid LOVES to eat and he loves to eat as slow as a sleepy gastropod.

BUT, I never minded this because a. I’m a slow eater and I hate being rushed.  b.  Working on an ipad app is a long process… sneaking in time to work on my computer while I waited for my lil man to complete his 700 chews per bite kept me sane and productive!

Dinner time was the time I usually received final images from my illustrator. This was my chance to take a look and make notes of any edits I wanted to have done.  As I’d open my e-mails, my lil man would eagerly turn the computer to face him so he could take a look at the fun images too. “Oooh, he likes them”, I would think! “This is great! Market research right at my dining table”.  We would end up talking about the images… I would use the same adjectives listed in the books to orally describe what was happening in each picture and he would add his inferences to our dialogue.

I guess he really picked up a lot from these e-mail checking sessions.  Sure, he can’t read the synonyms in my books (and soon to be iPad app) yet, but reading pictures is one of the first stages of reading and my guy was doing a great job at that.

This made me realize that these books can be used at any age! Children who are still learning how to read can use the pictures to have oral discussions with an adult about the shades of meaning illustrated on each page and in each context. Then when they are older (and able to read fluently) they can interact with these books in other ways – for example, using them as a thesaurus to replace “boring” words!

I love using my books to inspire kids to expand their vocabulary because they are always engaged when using them!  Take a look at my freebie and try it yourself! Click {here}! I can guarantee you’ll have as much fun looking at the pictures as your students or kids will! The complete bundle has 20 picture thesauruses!


  1. Thank you for sharing this, and you are SO right! Reading and building vocabulary at home with kids that are a young age makes a huge difference years down the line. We can teach them those skills at school a few hours a day, but it doesn't compare to what parents can do at home. It also instills in students at an early age that reading is important, which makes a huge difference in their attitude at school. I love the idea of using a picture thesaurus to make these skills easy to teach to young kids. I'll be knocking on your door when I'm a mom!

  2. Wow! I loved reading this post! I also have a child going into kindergarten. She has a great vocabulary already because we also read a ton and use big words when communicating, but I love the idea of using your synonym books with little ones. When I first saw them, I knew my 5th graders would love them. I am just loving the idea of also using them with my 5 year old as well! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post about your son!

    One Stop Teacher Shop

  3. I love the images that accompany your synonyms! Great post, sharing via K12's Pinterest. (k12.com, Learningliftoff.com)

  4. Nice post. Your great image of the TRex brought me in and I am glad it did. I agree with you and have always used big words with my son.

  5. Thank you so much Sarah!

  6. I'm glad it brought you in as well! Thank you so much for stopping by!