Speech Therapy: How to Track My Toddler's First Words

How to Track My Toddler's First Words

How to Track My Toddler's First Words

Speech Therapy: How to Track My Toddler’s First Words

Do you have a delightful toddler?

Or, are you a fortunate professional, like myself, who works with charming, adorable toddlers?

If so, I bet you’ve heard or asked this question more than once:

“How many words does your child say?”

Maybe you’ve heard it at the pediatrician’s office.

Maybe you’ve heard it from friends or even complete strangers.

Or, maybe you’ve read announcements on your Facebook feed from parents revealing that their 15 month old child has 50 words and speaks in full sentences. Maybe you even unfollowed your dear friend after reading it? I kid, I kid. Of course you wouldn’t do that, right?

Regardless, I often encourage my clients to track their child’s first words.

Why Should I Track My Toddler’s First Words?

Tracking toddler’s first words tells us a few things.

1. Quantity - It tells us how many words are in a child’s expressive vocabulary.

By this I mean, the words that he or she can say independently, spontaneously – all by him or herself. For instance, Willie says milk every time he wants milk and doesn’t need to be prompted to say it.

Please know - just because your child doesn’t or can’t say a word doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand it. In other words, your child’s ability to understand words (receptive language) usually exceeds his or her ability to say a variety of words (expressive language).  Some toddlers avoid saying words because they are hard to articulate OR because they’re not entirely sure or confident when or how to use the word (this is why you need to repeat, repeat, repeat).

2. Quality – It tells us the types of words a child can say.

Folks, stop scrolling, this is important.

What types of words does your child say?

Does your child use any social or action words to express a need, want, or affection? Or, is he using primarily nouns to name and label people, places, and things?

For better understanding, please read my post titled Common First Words: Speech Therapy and see the categories of words.

The child who can name every car brand or train may have lots of nouns in his expressive vocabulary. But, how is he using these words? Is he rattling them off in a rote fashion and not using them to comment or request?

A child excitedly shouting and pointing to “T-Rex!” while looking at mom is conveying - Mom, you have to look at this cool dinosaur. I demand your attention and shared joy, NOW!)

A child who says, “T-Rex” with a rising intonation while putting it into your shopping cart is clearly requesting that you buy T-Rex.

3. Rate of progress It tells us how many words have been added over a time period.

Toddlers with typically developing language add new words on a daily basis. How else would they go from having 2 to 6 words at 1 years old (other than mama and dada) to 1,000 words by 3 years old?

Tracking your child's  first words helps you to better notice the pace of vocabulary growth.

I’ll conclude this piece with 4 recommendations:

Click here for a free copy of my word tracker sheet - if there are ANY ways I can improve it, please shoot me an email at kim@scanlonspeech.com.

See the columns titled Strategy Used and Notes? Track the words that your toddler says both spontaneously AND when a strategy is used.

First Words Word Tracker Sheet

First Words Word Tracker Sheet

Here’s an example:



1. Remember - first words are words a child says spontaneously, with no support or prompting. Many children who are adding words to their repertoires will often imitate words before spontaneously saying them. And, children with a language delay will need strategies to help them acquire first words. Use the strategies in *My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child's Language Development to help! (Subscribe to my newsletter to receive the Cheat Sheet too). Amazon affiliate link included.

2. Toddlers aren’t expected to say articulate words 100% correctly. Not until the age of 4 years old are children expected to be 100% intelligible. Even then, they may still mispronounce words. Click here to read, “Is Your Child Intelligible?”

3. What’s that? You want to know if you can track word combinations? Sure, but it may be hard to keep up.

4. Lastly, keep your sanity. Try tracking the words for a week or two. If it seems like a needless, painstaking task, then maybe it’s not for you. If it makes you stressed, then don’t do it.

As always I hope this has been helpful!

A few years ago, I designed the The Word Tracker App to assist in the process. I’ll be redesigning this app very, very soon so feel free to give me any feedback – I’ll take the good, the bad, and the ugly (kim@scanlonspeech.com).

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