Could Non-Verbal Clues Improve Child Vocabularies?

Research from the University of Chicago has shown that the clues parents give toddlers about words could help to improve how thorough their vocabulary development becomes when they enter school. This means using words to reference objects in the visual environment which could help young children to learn new words and develop a better understanding of what those words mean. The research also develops the interactions between parents and children when they’re learning to speak. For example, such a reference may be “There goes the zebra” while visiting the zoo benefits the child’s vocabulary more than saying “Let’s go to see the zebra”.


The differences in the quality of parents’ non-verbal clues to toddlers, by referencing what a child can see over what is happening later on, explains 22 percent of the differences in those same children’s vocabularies when they enter school. The results of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A child’s vocabulary can vary greatly when they reach school age and start interacting with other children their age – because pre-school vocabularies are a predictor of subsequent school success, this variability is hugely important and its sources must be understood. Researchers have found that the number of words a child hears can have a great impact on their vocabulary later in life, so parents with a higher socioeconomic status (those with higher earnings and more education) will typically talk more to their children, and lead to a more in-depth vocabulary and understanding of words.


Though researchers didn’t note any differences in the quality of the interactions based on the parents’ backgrounds, there was a significant difference in the parents who were studied. For example, some parents only provided non-verbal clues around 5 percent of the time, while others provided them up to 38 percent of the time. This impacts the children’s learning greatly. The more a child can hear and learn about in the early stages of their development the better, as this will impact their learning abilities later in life.

Comments are closed.