Help your primary-aged child learn new words  

Tips for helping children aged five to eleven years to learn new words. 

Why is it important to help my child learn new words?  

Children need to know lots of different words to be able to talk in sentences and tell stories. Knowing lots of words also helps children’s reading and writing, and it helps them to do better at school.  

How does my child learn words? 

By the age of five years, many children will have already learned lots of different words. These could include naming words (e.g. dog, car), doing words (e.g. cooking, swimming) and describing words (e.g. heavy, hot).  

Between five and eleven years, children start to learn more complicated words like ‘honesty’ or ‘escalate’. At school, they learn technical words like ‘thermometer’ and ‘climate’. They will also learn more words to describe their feelings, like ‘surprised’ or ‘confused’.  

Children learn new words by hearing them over and over again in different situations.  

How can I help my child to learn new words?  

  • Repeating words is really important. Children need to hear a new word many times and in lots of situations before they learn and remember it.  
  • Use pictures or actions at the same time as saying the word. Hearing the word and seeing it at the same time gives children extra clues about the word’s meaning. For example, if you are talking about an ‘increasing’ size you could show something getting bigger using your hands. Use photos or videos to talk together about how something works. For example, if you are helping them understand what a ‘wind turbine’ is, look up some photos and videos of wind turbines. 
  • Add a word to what your child says. When your child has told you something, you could repeat it back and add a new word. For example, if your child says, ‘There’s smoke coming out the car’, you could reply, ‘Yes, there’s smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe.’ Then describe it, for example, ‘The exhaust pipe lets the smoke out’. Say it again next time you see a car.  
  • Read stories together. When you come across a new word in the story, ask your child, ‘Do you know what that word means?’. If they don’t, help them look for clues to work it out. For example, ‘The boy tumbled down the hill – look at the picture. How do you think he went down the hill?’ You could also look up the meaning of the word together on the internet or in a dictionary.  
  • Give choices to help your child use the correct word. For example, ‘Do you think it’s a cabbage or a cauliflower?  
  • Talk to your child about what words mean. Do this by relating the new word to what they know already. For example, ‘Depth is about how deep something is. Here is a whale in the ocean, the ocean is very deep. Depth is the distance from the top to the bottom.’  
  • Talk to your child’s school. Try asking your child’s teacher for a list of words they are learning at school. Model these words for your child, repeat them often and give them opportunities to practise them.  
  • Talk to your child about new words – talk together about the sounds in the word and what it means. For example, the word ‘recycle’. It begins with a ‘r’, it has 3 syllables (or parts) of the word – ‘re-cy-cle’ – you could clap the word out. It means ‘using things again’.  Talk about lots of examples, ‘we recycle glass’, ‘we can recycle paper’. Find times to talk about the word in real life situations like when you’re putting the bins out or going to the bottle bank. 

I don’t think my child is saying as many words as other children their age. Should I be worried? 

For a quick check of your child’s skills, you can use our Progress Checker.  Our progress checker is based on what we know about how babies and children develop skills. Choose the age of the child and then answer the questions. At the end, we will direct you to some helpful advice and resources.