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How many words should your toddler know?

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Jamie Swenson
February 22, 2012

Every so often I see an article that really catches my attention. Today, one of the stories that popped up on my Yahoo page was about how many words two-year-olds should be speaking: ďThe Twenty-Five Words Every Toddler Needs to KnowĒ by mom-blogger Sarah B. Weir. The gist of the article was that late-blooming two-year-old talkers should, at the very least, have twenty-five words. Apparently, researchers from the Child Study Institute at Bryn Mawr College have identified a list of 25 words every toddler should be using by age two. Hereís the list:

all gone, baby, ball, banana, bath, bye bye, book, car, cat, cookie, daddy, dog, eye, hat, hello/hi, hot, juice, milk, mommy, more, no, nose, shoe, thank you, yes

Weir also stated, ďA two-year-old's limited vocabulary may red flag hearing problems, autism, or a developmental disorder such as dyslexia.Ē

I hate these types of lists for a couple of reasons: one, they make parents panic, and two Ė itís crazy for researchers to try to identify words that all children should share in common. What if you donít eat bananas in your house? What if you eat kumquats? Or berries? And why donít these babies ask for water instead of juice? We didnít drink much juice in our house.

Still, the study is certainly not lost on me. Two-year-olds are definitely capable of rich language and vocabulary and any study that suggests parents focus on vocabulary building isnít a bad one in my opinion. And yes, I agree that delayed speech may be a red flag pointing to greater issues Ö but sometimes itís not that hard. Sometimes, itís simply a matter of educating parents and caregivers that their actions directly affect the vocabulary of kids in their care. Sometimes increasing a childís vocabulary is as simple as talking and reading to that child. It really is.

Iíve seen it hundreds of times over the past twelve years, and it never, ever gets old. A parent/grandparent/caregiver starts coming to storytime. Maybe theyíve heard itís a good thing to do, maybe they are just looking for a distraction. Maybe a pediatrician has recommended it. Within a few weeks that parent approaches me (or any other staff person) and relates how his/her child/grandchild is suddenly using all sorts of new words and even pretends storytime for his/her stuffed animals at home. In a year or two that child comes in and he/she is starting to read. I see the child enter kindergarten ready to roll -- and then one day I hear he/she is reading and comprehending way above level. Sometimes I think Iím happier than the childís parents!

No, Iím not saying storytime gets all the credit for this Ö but it certainly gets some of the credit. Credit for helping the parent to truly understand the value of reading with that child, talking to that child, and seeing that simple every day activities make a world of difference when it come to literacy development.

So when I see an article suggesting that two-year-olds have at least twenty-five words Ö you know Iím like BRING IT ON! Twenty-five words Ö letís go for a few hundred! Different sources Iíve read estimate a two-year-oldís vocabulary to be between 75-300 words.

True Story:

About a year ago, a woman came to storytime with a little boy. Before she went in the first time she came up and told me that he really wasnít talking much at all, and she was concerned. A teacher suggested she start bringing him to storytime (clever teacher!). Now, you might think Iím exaggerating about this, but within two weeks that woman came up and told me that the little boy was starting to use words during storytime to respond to our prompts. She was thrilled. A few months later, that woman came up, practically jumping up and down, and reported that the little guy was suddenly ďtalking up a storm.Ē I still see that woman at the library with the little boy, and each time she reports how great heís doing and how heís so ready for preschool and beyond. I count him among our storytime success stories Ė and if I ever feel underappreciated, I think about that child.

Sorry, I get all passionate about early literacy. Itís my thing.

So, turn off the television and talk to your child. Turn off the computer. Put down the cell phone. Talking near your child is not the same as talking to your child. And the talking on television is not the same either (although, many a child has learned some pretty interesting vocabulary while watching television Ö of this, I can attest). Itís the give and take of conversation that makes the most difference. I promise you that you will see a change in how that child responds and talks to you.

One of our main jobs in youth services at the Hedberg Public Library is early literacy. We study it. We talk about it. We live and breathe it. Itís what we do. If youíve ever been to storytime, youíll know that we work very hard to expose kids to all sorts of new vocabulary through songs, rhymes, books and more Ė starting from birth. We deliberately pick books that use Ďrareí or unfamiliar words.

So, if youíre wondering if your toddlerís vocabulary is where it should be Ė first, talk to your pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues Ė and then why not give storytime a try? Itís free and it works.

Storytime Schedule: The next session starts March 6th and runs through May 11th

Baby Walkers for babies 13-24 months old Wednesdays at 10 a.m. starting March 7 Baby Lapsit for babies 0-12 months old Wednesdays at 10:45 a.m. starting March 7 Speaking, singing and reading to babies sparks their creativity and brain development. Begin your baby's road to reading with 15-20 minutes of rhymes, songs and simple books in these spirited programs for our youngest patrons. A playtime follows each program.

Tales for 2s and 3s for children 2-3 years old Thursdays and Fridays at 10 and 10:45 a.m. starting March 8 & 9 Two- and three-year-olds are extremely active, imitate adult behavior and are developing verbal skills that express emotion. This 25-minute program builds vocabulary and helps foster motor skills development through fingerplays and other movement activities.

Tales for 4s and More for children 4-6 years old Tuesdays at 10 a.m. starting up again on March 6 This storytime includes 40 minutes of more complex stories, songs and activities that introduce the wider world and encourage the attentiveness necessary for school success. To help allow your preschoolers to practice their kindergarten skills without distraction, younger siblings are not invited to this storytime.

Saturday Story Shorts for children 2-5 years old Satrudays at 10 a.m. March 17, 24 & 31 | April 7, 14, 21 & 28 Enjoy a fun-filled half-hour program including a story or two, a song or movement activity, and an easy craft. Geared for children ages 2-5, but families are welcome to come enjoy the program together. No registration necessary.

Donít forget to Friend the Hedberg Public Library on Facebook. Youíll get updates and have access to photos from events.

Happy Reading.

I did want to mention that most kids understand many more words than they speak. Comprehension is just as important (in my opinion) as speaking Ö so donít discount that!



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