Toddler Language

By 4 years old, a child should be able to know the function of a vocabulary word:

  • What does ____(vocabulary word) do?
  • What do you do with _____(vocabulary word)?

Below are easy ways to introduce this skill so it will eventually come naturally to your child!

Language Milestones Targeted

Expressive Language

Receptive Language

  • Uses about 500 words 
  • Speaks with 4+ word phrases 
  • Understands 900 words 

Flash Card Teaching Phase

To first teach this skill, I suggest using vocabulary cards. It is concrete and without many distractions. 

What You Need: Vocabulary Function Flashcards

How to Play: Sit down at a table with your child. Show your child a card and ask one of the following questions:

  • What does ____(vocabulary word) do?
  • What do you do with _____(vocabulary word)?

For example, 

  • What do you do with an apple? Eat
  • What does a dog do? Bark

If your child doesn’t know the answer, give it to them and then explain your reasoning. Ask the the question again and see if he/she can find the correct answer! If not, move on and try again later. 

Tip: Practice the flashcards for a few weeks or until it seems like your child is getting the hang of it. However, don't spend too much time here. Move on to the games below. They are more functional and you will see faster progress when more time is spent on them. 

The games for location are the same as location. If you have read that page already, you are ready to go! If not, read below.


What You need: Your child’s favorite toys

How to Play: While playing with your child, ask about the function of certain toys. Some easy and common ones to focus on are:

  • Cars: To Drive
  • Balls: To throw/bounce
  • Play Food: To eat
  • Tea Set: To drink
  • Blocks: To build
  • Chair: To sit
  • Trains: To go, Bring people
  • Planes: To fly
  • etc….

Try to make questions as natural as possible and try to avoid playtime turning into a quiz. To accomplish this, ask questions while you play such as:

  • “Oh, you have a good ball. What do you do with a ball?” 

Hopefully, your child will say “throw it!” If not, tell them the right answer and get back to playing. 

Function Day

What You Need: Nothing!

How to Play: In your mind, decide to focus on function of vocabulary words. Personally, I would set an alarm on my phone so I remember to do it! Throughout the day while in the car, shopping, playing, eating, etc…., ask your child about the function of different objects. 

  • What does ____(vocabulary word) do?


  • What do you do with _____(vocabulary word)?

The great thing about this “game” is that your child is exposed to and challenged with a variety of different vocabulary words. Also, your child is thinking about what things do or what you can do with them in their natural environment. The goal is that he/she will start to think in this manner about all new vocabulary concepts...forever :)

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