Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life


So, my daughter’s preschool had parent-teacher conferences the other night, and the subject was my daughter’s upcoming move to the 3-year-old classroom. In many ways it’s an exciting event that needs to happen; in others I dread it because my daughter has so enjoyed her year in the two’s classroom.

Her teacher had a list of recommended milestones in speech and language development. The two-and-a-half to three-year-old should have a vocabulary of approximately 500 intelligible words that she uses routinely.

My daughter’s teacher pointed out that milestone to my husband and me. “Now, of course, I’ll need to see that list of words.” She teased.

“Including the Swedish and Chinese?” my husband asked. (We give as good as we get.)

By the end of the next day I had a list of 732 words that my daughter uses in context, not including any of the non-English words except “ni hao,” which she does say spontaneously in context on many occasions.

After I picked her up from school, my daughter said, after we crossed the street using the crosswalk, “There was a grumpy old troll.”

Mental note: “grumpy old troll”—one word. She doesn’t know the meaning of the three words separately, and I have never heard her use them separately, but she apparently does have a concept of a grumpy old troll as a character. Thanks Dora. Oh and she knows what a “map” is too, 734. We’ve shown her real maps and explained how they are used, and she often “follows” a map when we take road trips.

When we were driving home and we passed a road barricade on which the construction tape was flying in the breeze, “Mommy, that’s the finish line.”

Need to add “finish line.”

Later that night she said, “You put it in your pocket.”

Need to add “pocket” to the list.

I’m looking at the list of my daughter’s words. The phrases “don’t want to” and “go away” I have listed as one word because the are used in her conversations as single entities, but she does understand “go” and “want” on their own as well, although rarely does she “want” something. She is far more dramatic; she always needs candy or cookies toys, scissors or glue.

She doesn’t know “aunt” and “uncle” the generic terms, but she does know who Uncle Paul is, the specific person. She doesn’t know that “you’re” is a contraction of “you are,” but she uses the contraction correctly in sentences; it counts as one word.

I am looking at her list of words. It’s a comforting list. Of course the words “no”, “my”, and “mine” are there. She uses those words a lot. But so are the words “love”, as in “I love you Daddy.” And “hug” as in “I give Grandma a hug.” “Happy Birthday” is a favorite phrase, and anytime I make salad she wishes her daddy a “Happy Birthday” because the first time she helped me wash the lettuce for a salad was for Daddy’s special birthday dinner.

Her list is full of musical terms: “drum”, “piano”, “sing,” and action terms: “skip”, “hop”, “jump”, “chase”. She has quiet time terms too: “book”, “read”, “write”, “color”, “crayon”. It’s full of people who love her: “Grandma”, “Papa”, “Grandpa”, her teacher’s names, the friends next door. It’s full of the places she loves to go: “home”, “school”, the “library,” and the “park”.

It doesn’t contain any words that I’m not pleased to include—yet. Though I am sure those words will come, but I’m going to do my best to delay their arrival.

All-in-all I’m pleased with her list of words. I think I’ll keep adding to it. It helps me listen to her. It helps me see her grow; it helps me remember what kinds of words I need to be using everyday as I grow up in front of her.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “What You Can Learn from a Toddler's Vocabulary List

  1. One of the most precious pieces of growing-up memorabilia I have from when I was first learning to talk is a piece of paper where my grandmother had phonetically spelled out the way I said certain words.
    My name, for example, was “Kear-na,” hamburger was “hangermer,” a glass of 7-up was “nup.” I still have it. If you haven’t already, you might think about handwriting a copy of your list and tucking it away. It makes for a really sweet memento later on, especially for girls like us who have a healthy appreciation for words. 🙂

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      Hi Caroline,

      I have it, and I am adding to it as I hear her speak new words. Some day I hope she’ll appreciate this as much as I would knowing what my first words were.

      Michele

  2. Aunt Liz says:

    Don’t forget “Quiet Puppy” I believe that means I can use the squirt bottle!

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      “Quiet Puppy” is on the list already! So is squirt bottle.

  3. sylviamorice says:

    Great list, Michelle. Makes me wish I had compiled them for my two children when they were little–I do have mementos of their early spelling attempts and pull them out every once-in-awhile–brings back great memories.

  4. A thoughtful insight and ideas I will use on my blog. You’ve obviously spent some time on this. Well done!

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