How to Introduce Your Child to 1 Million Words Before Kindergarten

Regularly flipping through a board book or picture book exposes your child to a surprising number of new words.

Jan 11, 2024




Jan 11, 2024

Want to set a solid foundation for your children's academic future? Read to them multiple times a day, and they’ll enter school having heard more than a million words.

Having a daily practice of new word introduction will add up pretty quickly. Bonding over board books, picture books, or even early chapter books will not only help build phonics and vocabulary skills, but also word associations and reading comprehension.

And, a daily reading routine does have long-term benefits. According to research into home libraries conducted by Scholastic, The academic impact of home access to books and other forms of reading materials continues long after your child's earliest reading experiences. 

In fact, studies have found that when books are an integral part of a home environment, children are more likely to read for their own enjoyment and develop a better vocabulary. Home libraries also expand your child's 'cultural toolkit' that positively impacts their educational development and success. 

Another study from The Ohio State University found that young children who are read to five times daily (it’s OK if books are repeated!) will hear nearly 1.5 million words by the time they turn 5 — boosting their language development and setting a strong foundation for school success

Researchers randomly chose 30 of the most circulated board books and 30 of the most circulated picture books, as identified by the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and tallied up the number of words in each book. According to their findings, board books contained an average of 140 words, while picture books contained an average of 228 words.

With these averages, the researchers calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through age 5 with a mix of board books and picture books. Based on their calculations, kids who were read to once or twice a week would hear 63,570 words, while children who were read to three to five times a week would hear 169,520 words. Daily reading would result in 296,660 words, and five books a day would result in a whopping 1,483,300 words heard by age 5! 

Though children’s picture and board books showcase a simpler set of vocabulary, many contain words that are rarely found in everyday conversations. That’s why reading is so important for language exposure (even for older kids!) — everyday chatter is typically not as rich in vocabulary as books. 

Additionally, the “extra-texual” talk after a reading, during which parents discuss a book with their kids, can further enhance a child’s vocabulary. (Here are some storytime questions that will get you started.) Though children may not fully understand every single word they hear, this early exposure prepares them for future instances when they may encounter these words in print, such as at school. 

Five readings a day may seem like a lofty goal, but you can start by adding just one book to your daily routine. Build your home library with a variety of books that both you and your child enjoy — and engage with extra-textual conversations after reading. 

Find more expert-approved kindergarten books, tips, and resources at our guide to getting ready for kindergarten, as well as recommended reading for kindergarten

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