Fathers Have an Important Impact on Children’s Vocabulary

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Several years ago researchers at the University of Maryland reported that fathers have a strong impact on childrens’ development in language and vocabulary.

The study led by Kathryn Leech, published in 2013, indicates that fathers “ask more questions, and particularly Wh questions, compared with mothers.”

This provides children with the opportunity to use more words to respond. The findings of the study importantly conclude that input from fathers matters for language development and vocabulary growth in children.


The great outdoors is a wonderful way to bond with children. The more exploration fathers and children do together, the more vocabulary is used.

Kelly Flink, Director of Early Childhood at The Green Vale School in Old Brookville, explains that by enjoying “outdoor magic children enhance social skills, build friendships, reduce stress, develop their bodies, build neural connections and have incredible fun.”

Flink suggests that fathers take time to ask children what they love about the outdoors and ask well-considered and elaborate questions. For example, Do you hear the croaking frogs?

Using words that describe helps children to listen closely, look deliberately, and observe the world around them in a special intentional way.


Strike. Catch. Pitch. Hurdle. Offense. Squash. Vault. Goal. Curling.

Think about these words in isolation. What comes to mind? Now, think about these words in the context of a sport. “Squash” to a racketball player is a much different word to a chef. “Vault” is an important word to use at a bank, but a very different word in gymnastics.

The context of words matter, and fathers can be great proponents of understanding words in different contexts. While catching a game together, fathers and children can discuss the athletic words and their use in all definitions outside of sports. Learning all the various meanings of words helps children use words in a diverse way, gain new understandings of topics, and builds a robust vocabulary for literacy growth.    

So get talking, dads! Kids are listening. learning, and gaining literacy skills.

Erin Fealy Cunningham, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Hunter College, CUNY, and an educational consultant and literacy specialist

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