February 16, 2023

The “FUN” in Functional (Vocabulary)

Laura Gencarella Speech Therapist in Charlotte, NC

Laura Gencarella
Owner, Speaking Sensory LLC

Speaking Sensory speech therapy session in Charlotte, NC

Teaching toddlers functional vocabulary can be an invaluable part of their development. Functional vocabulary refers to the words and phrases that children use to express needs, wants, and feelings in social situations, that are usually recurrent throughout their daily routines. This type of language is particularly important for developing communication skills as it allows children to interact with others non-verbally by using gestures, facial expressions, and objects.

Learning functional vocabulary also helps toddlers build their understanding of different scenarios and contexts. As they experiment with words like “open” or “help”, they learn what activities are associated with each word and how they can use those words appropriately. This also allows for repeated practice of the actual word production. Remember- toddler’s are always listening. The more you can model the word and use the word in context, the higher the chance of your toddler understanding and using it correctly. Naturally, it also allows your toddler to use these words that have meaning and get their needs met! Try modeling words such as my, more, want, please, yes, no, help, open, down, in, etc. (bonus points if you use gestures), and prioritize those over teaching colors, letters, animal names, etc. Furthermore, this way of teaching allows them to think more abstractly about concepts such as cause-effect relationships and abstract thought processes.

To help your toddler develop their use of functional vocabulary, try taking an inventory of the words YOU are saying repeatedly throughout your routines and/or play-schemes. For example, if you are working with a toy that requires your toddler to “pull” or “push”, try modeling that word paired with an action, to increase understanding and imitation! Remember, gestures count as words too! Lastly, give lots of positive reinforcement when they correctly identify an object or use a certain phrase – this will encourage them to continue experimenting with new words!

If you feel that your child is still having difficulty using words with meaning, contact us today for a free, developmental screening!

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