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

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.

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Why Should I Track My Toddler’s First Words?

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

It helps us recognize the size of your toddler’s expressive vocabulary, the types of words he or she may say (or not say), the pace of his or her vocabulary growth and how he or she uses words to communicate.

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

This means the words that your toddler can say independently and spontaneously – all by him or herself. For instance, Willie says milk every time he wants milk and doesn’t need to be prompted or encouraged to say it.

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

Does your child use any social (“hi!” or “bye”)or action words (“eat” or “sit”)?

Or, is he using primarily nouns to name people, places, and things?

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, parrot-like fashion? Or, is he using them to make a comment about or to request the particular vehicle?

A child excitedly shouting and pointing to “T-Rex!” while looking at his mother 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 rising intonation while putting it into your shopping cart is 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?

For a better understanding, please see Part One: Toddler Language Development Basics in my latest book, My Toddler’s First Words: A Step-By-Step Guide to Jump-Start, Track, and Expand Your Toddler’s Language. In careful detail, I explain using custom illustrations why it’s important to track and target different types of words. You can also view Common First Words: Speech Therapy and see the various categories of words. See the columns titled Strategy Used and Notes? Track the words that your toddler says both spontaneously AND when a strategy is used.

How to Use the First Words Tracking Sheet

I include step-by-step directions on how to use this tracking sheet in my book, My Toddler’s First Words, however, here are some quick tips to get started on your own.

  1. Take a few minutes to consider what words or word approximations (your toddler’s spoken attempts to say a real word but doesn’t sound fully accurate). For instance, my 20 month-old boy says, “fwuck” for truck, which can be quite amusing.

  2. If your toddler is NOT yet saying any words spontaneously, what strategies can or do you use to encourage him to say a word? Both of my books are loaded with various techniques and this website has a lot too.

  3. Where (or in what setting) was the word spoken? This particular column doesn’t need to be completed, especially if you are pressed for time. Although, completing it may assist in recalling moments when your toddler used words or didn’t.

  4. In the last column, include any relevant notes. For instance, my toddler had an easier time responding when I gave him choices (“Would you like a peach or an apple?” and less when I asked him an open-ended question “What would you like to eat?”)

First Words Word Tracker Sheet

First Words Word Tracker Sheet

This First Words Track Sheet is available, along with many other worksheets and resources, in my Resource Library. Please subscribe to my newsletter to receive the access code.

Here’s an example of how a former client used this sheet:



Concluding Thoughts and Suggestions:

1. Remember - spontaneously spoken words are words a child says with no support or prompting from others. Many children who are adding words to their repertoires will often imitate words before spontaneously saying them.

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 and in My Toddler’s First Words to help! ( Amazon affiliate links included).

2. Toddlers aren’t expected to say words with 100% accuracy. For instance, your toddler may still say “dat” for that. 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. If your child is beyond the single word level, it may be difficult track word combinations. This is because once your child begins to combine words together, typically the number of words in his or her repertoire expands exponentially.

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. Unfortunately, it was too expensive to maintain so I had to discontinue it in the Apple store. If I ever re-release it, I’ll be sure to share on my website.

If you are in need of some additional free and helpful resources, please subscribe to my newsletter – I share more information exclusively with my newsletter subscribers.

If you have enjoyed reading My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child's Language Development or My Toddler’s First Words: A Step-By-Step Guide to Jump-Start, Track, and Expand Your Toddler’s Language, please help spread the word about my book. Please tell your friends, write an honest review on Amazon, click the Facebook like button on landing page, or personally give me your feedback. I love hearing from my readers and value their input. You are the reason why I devote so much time to perfecting my craft.