How to Teach Vocabulary in Preschool

A child’s vocabulary is ever increasing, especially in preschool and before.  Understanding and using vocabulary is a foundational part of kindergarten readiness.   Keep reading to find few easy ways you can encourage your children’s language development.

Why Vocabulary Matters

Learning the names of colors and body parts is something we teach in preschool and just naturally ask toddlers to demonstrate.  But why?  I’ll bet unless you’ve researched it, you don’t realize how significant vocabulary development is in early childhood education.

In short, preschoolers who have a higher vocabulary → tend to go on to become better readers → reading is a critical skill for success in school and most occupations →  strong vocabulary is a jump towards academic success for years to come! (Neuman and Wright)

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How to Encourage Language Development in Preschool


Reading to children and making reading a fun event really make a difference.  I know that reading the same favorite books day after day gets old.  It really does matter though!

Children who read daily are more likely to have above average vocabulary attainment than children who read less often (19.6% vs. 12.0%); children who enjoy stories “a lot” are also more likely to have above average vocabulary attainment than children who enjoy stories less (17.1% vs. 11.6%,) (Formby 8)

The same survey goes on to show that a parent or caregiver sharing books with confidence also increases a child’s vocab skills.  Engaging with the book, such as pointing out pictures and asking questions does, too (Formby 15).

Teach Vocabulary Explicitly

In addition to reading, flat out teaching children what a word means makes a big difference (Han, et al. 86).   When you’re reading, stop and say, “Do you know what that word means?”  Go a little deeper and use words the kids already understand to give them a child-friendly concept of the word.

Use New Vocabulary

Using new words in a variety of contexts really brings the idea together for the little ones (Han, et al. 86).  As I said above, reading and engaging in books, as well as defining vocab words plainly, are all fundamental to learning new vocabulary.  But, just as important, is the idea of using the new words to give the kids a more concrete and complete understanding.

Play Make Believe

If make believe is hard for you, you can always just set the stage and get the kids going.  Most importantly, playing pretend gets the little gears in their minds working.  Through this type of play, kids develop their oral language skills.  Oral language skills turn into literacy skills.  Guiding play in an educational way is actually an extremely effective way to help kids learn (Han, et al. 87).

You can follow my Dramatic Play Pinterest Board to get tons of ideas for make believe!


Featured Resource

These body parts posters are easy, peasy, lemon squeezy and super affordable for something that gets so much use! Click here or the image below to go to the product in my TpT store.

body parts printables


Formby, Susie. "Children's early literacy practices at home and in early years settings: Second annual survey of parents and practitioners." National Literacy Trust, 2014.

Han, Myae, et al. Does Play Make a Difference? How Play Intervention Affects the Vocabulary of Learning of At-Risk Preschoolers. American Journal of Play, Summer 2010, pp. 82-105.

Neuman, Susan B. and Wright, Tanya S.  "The Magic of Words: Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Childhood Classroom."  American Educator,  Summer 2014, pp. 4-13.