Help your child improve their vocabulary at home

August 01, 2018

Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has highlighted the need for children to develop good language skills. Here are some ways you can help your child improve their vocabulary at home…

Children talking at Explore Learning

One of the biggest factors impacting your child’s ability to progress at school is their language. If they can not understand what is being said or articulate their own thoughts, then school can be a confusing and isolating place.

In a recent speech by Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, he highlighted the need for children to develop good language skills “because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up,”. Worryingly, the Department for Education’s statistics shows that nearly 1/3 of four and five-year-olds are lacking the language skills to describe simple events or even just to speak in sentences.

Children with good vocabulary are more than twice as likely to be in employment at the age of 34 as those with poor vocabulary, so building a love of learning and language skills at an early age is vital.

Charlotte Gater, Head of Education at Explore Learning, shares some ideas you can fit into your busy family lives in order to do this.


Building a love of stories, books and reading are key to developing a child’s vocabulary. Reading to your child will expose them to lots of new words. Get them to describe what is happening in the pictures to get them talking with you. It’s a great idea for them to see you reading too, as your child looks up to you and will copy what you do.

What if reading isn’t your thing?

Let your child see you with books anyway. A parent once told me that she carried a book around with her all the time and got it out when they were waiting for the bus or if they were early for school. She didn’t particularly enjoy reading herself, but she wanted her children to know that it was a good thing, so she would look at a book whilst the children were too.

Don’t be scared of using challenging language

Children learn from what is being said around them; if you model using a variety of language then your child will learn more and start to use different words. Use more challenging words and then explain what they mean to increase their vocabulary.

Join the library

Books can be expensive, and it may take time to find the types of stories that engage your child.  Why not join the library and tap into this free goldmine of books? Libraries often run music classes or storytime sessions which are free or low cost. These are great ways to excite your child and build their language skills.

Label your house

With your child, label items around the house so they can learn lots of new words. Write the word and get your child to trace over it or copy it if they are able to. They can also draw pictures on the labels to help them to remember the word.

Play games

Learning should be fun, so play word-based games together. Here are a few you can play anywhere:

  • Eye spy. If they don’t know what sounds a word starts with yet, say what colour it is as well to help them.
  • I’m thinking of an animal. Give three clues to describe an animal and get them to guess what you are thinking of. Once they have guessed it, it’s their turn!
  • Create a story. Everyone playing takes it in turns to say a sentence until you’ve built up a story.
  • I went to the seaside/park/moon and with me I took… This is a memory and word game. Pick somewhere you are going and then each time it’s someone’s turn they choose an item to take. They must also list everything everyone else has said before they add on their item.

Harness technology

Technology can have fantastic benefits if you use it in the right way. Harness your child’s love of screen time to help increase their literacy skills.

  • Oxford Owls. This website has a series of free e-books for 3-11-year-olds, some of which you can listen to as well as read. There are also lots of helpful resources you can use at home.
  • Listen to audiobooks. Use time when you’re travelling in the car or getting ready to go out to listen to stories. Then talk to your child about the story. Audiobooks are also great for reluctant readers as they are still being introduced to lots of new languages.
  • Access apps. There are lots of great apps that can help you help your child. Try Pirate Phonics, Hairy Letters and Reading Eggs to get started.
  • Get snapping. When you are out and about let your child take some photos to make a picture diary. Then when you get home look through the photos and get them to describe what you did. You can also turn your adventures into a book. Book Creator allows you to make 40 e-books of your own for free.

Seek support

It’s ok to ask for help! Your child doesn’t come with a manual so finding out from others how you can support them is invaluable. Talk to other parents to find out what they are doing, but don’t put pressure on yourself to do everything, pick a few things at a time. Talk to your nursery, preschool or school to find out what they would like you to do at home. Why not find a tutor to help? They have years of experience working with children, so they can help you support your child at this crucial time in their development. At Explore Learning we run a session for parents to help you find out about the school curriculum and what you can do at home, as well as supporting your child with expanding their language skills.

Just talk

Talking with your child is key to building language skills. In our busy lives it can be easy to focus on just getting everything done by bedtime, but carving out time to speak as a family is so important. Whether it’s whilst sitting around the dinner table, on the journey home from school or just for a few mins before they go to bed – have a chat. For some children, it’s hard to get anything out of them, with “fine” or “ok” being the standard answers. Try a few of this question to get them to expand their answers:

  • What was the best thing about your day?
  • What do you think will happen next in the story?
  • What’s happening in this picture?
  • What are you excited about doing tomorrow?


We’re here to help! From vocabulary and phonics tuition to expressing their ideas confidently, our English tutors bring out the best in your child so that they can develop the skills they’ll need for life.


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