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“What’s That?” Building Vocabulary

  • Posted on February 20, 2012 at 8:00 AM

For a while now, I’ve been playing the “What’s that?” game with Ben to help him build his vocabulary.  As long as I said “What’s that?” and he knew what the thing was (and was willing to play) he could identify the objects.  When he didn’t know, he’d wait expectantly.  I’d tell him, and he’d repeat it.  (If he didn’t want to play, he’d just ignore me.)  Sometimes the words he didn’t know surprised me, other times I knew what to expect.  Sometimes he was able to recall words quickly, other times it took longer, and still other times the word he wanted seemed just out of reach, so he’d look to me and wait for me to remind him.

One thing that made this game work, though, was that no matter what I pointed at, I had to say “What’s that?”  If I used “who,” he just wouldn’t respond.  Even if the what was actually a who.  Mildly frustrating considering that I feel it is very important to teach children that people aren’t things.

But Ben just made the leap to “Who’s that?” and I’m glad.  It started with Willy; “Who’s that?”  “Willy,” Ben said.  “Who’s that?”  “Grover”  “Who’s that?”  “Elmo”  So, over the last few days, I’ve been going around all the people and characters in Ben’s life, and asking him, “Who’s that?”  I’ve also been using “What’s that?” for the things.  I hope he’ll absorb the distinction, though I suspect, when his language skills have improved, I’ll have to explain it.  For now, I’m just thrilled that he’s made the leap from strictly “what” to “who/what.”