Try building language with getting dressed

Sabin, Davis, Hetrick, Anderegg, Macalady, Walker, Darling and Katers

There are many times during the day families can teach preschool children important words and ideas in an easy natural way. Talking together, reading stories, encouraging curiosity and questions are excellent ways to build vocabulary and new understanding. Even everyday activities like getting dressed to go outside provide a good chance to learn. Talking also helps focus children on the activity and keeps the activity positive.

Dressing is a very simple activity you repeat every day, perhaps several times a day as the weather and playtimes fluctuate. When you are getting ready to go outside, make your young children a partner in the long process of getting all bundled up.

Talking leads to reading

By talking through the process as you do it together, you will be teaching new words and important ideas. Use color words as you choose what hat to wear. Show your children they need a pair of mittens or boots that look the same, have the same characteristics. Talk about the right one and the left one. Make a mark on the outside of footwear. They often have a helpful picture on the outside.

Describe the clothes using words like fuzzy, smooth, wooly, striped, plaid, bumpy, soft, and colorful. Count the buttons, and show how zippers work–up and down, fast, and slow.

Use words like over, under, top, bottom, inside, outside, front, back, left, right, long, short. Make up a little “getting dressed” song by singing, “First, we put on our pants, next we put on our red sweater, then we put on our blue jacket.”

This works especially if they are tired or grumpy and you are running late. The tune doesn’t matter as long as you are having fun and keeps the activity light rather than stressful.

How will this help?

With many repetitions, children learn what words mean and begin to use the words themselves. Later, they will be able to use the ideas in their own writing and connect the words they see in print with words they have heard. Talking with children in a conversational tone is a very important first step to reading. Understanding opposites, describing words, color and size words are important preschool language skills.

When you come back inside, use the same plan to describe things as you take off clothes and put them back where they belong. If your child is interested, take a few minutes to talk about what you did outside and maybe draw a picture. You could print a sentence about the outside play at the bottom of the picture, or maybe label some of the clothes if your children draw a picture of themselves or you.

For more tips see and Through the Seasons live and podcasts.