How the silly things kids say show they’re learning

 The following is by contributor Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.

I love listening to my three year-old talk.  He has a way of making the most common words sound delectably darling.  He asks if we can look something up on my “compweeter” almost every day.  He comments on our secret “packageway” when we take a new route home from his brothers’ school.  And my heart absolutely melts when I hear him half shout, half sing, “Lemolade!” while peddling summer’s favorite drink with his big brothers.

I’m not the only mother who revels in the mispronunciations commonly found in our preschoolers’ lingo.  When I shared some of my favorite boyhood bumbles on Facebook, loads of parents joined in, sharing examples like “soupcase” for suitcase and “ice cream” instead of sunscreen, that kept me chuckling for days.

As much as I would agree that these misnomers are endearing and cute, they also provide a window to the rapid pace of language and cognitive development in our little ones.

While it generally takes 18 months for a child to garner their first 50 words, soon after that point, their vocabularies begin to explode.  By age three, the average preschooler has a vocabulary of 900-1000 words!  With that much new information, it’s no wonder some of it would get jumbled in the process.

Child development theorist, Jean Piaget posited that we can learn as much (and perhaps more) about what children understand by really looking at their mistakes rather than simply measuring them by the sum of their correct answers.  Here are some ways to recognize your child’s learning in the middle of these hilarious misspeaks:

Mixing the Files

Piaget believed that through experience and interaction, children actively work to construct an understanding of the world around them.  In that process, children build schemas – kind of like a filing system – for organizing information.  When new information comes in, they either assimilate the information — put it in an existing file — or, when the new information doesn’t fit, they accommodate by changing their schema — reorganizing their filing system.

This is where we get slip-ups like “flutterbyes” and “hoparoos”.  In the process of looking for the right file, things can get muddled.  The words make sense: those things flutter and hop, so it creates equilibrium for a time.  This is also where we get kids calling things by the wrong, but more familiar name (calling rhinos “cows”, for example). In labeling the new object, a familiar file gets pulled.

Assimilation can also lead to overgeneralizing rules.  When a child begins to pick up on the past tense -ed pattern, they begin to go to that schema or file for all past tense verbs.  That’s how we end up with kids who “goed” places.  It’s not proper English, but it’s on the right track!

These mistakes show us the child is capitalizing on salient characteristics to categorize the item or word.  The resulting word may not be right, but it shows a growth in observing, understanding, and conceptualizing.

Sounds Abound

Many of the most endearing errors come when our little ones mix sounds around or substitute familiar rhyming words for parts of the new word.  Like when my son went out to pick “bikinis” rather than zucchinis, or sat down to eat “psketti” instead of spaghetti.

Children are taking the words they hear, remembering them, and recalling them.  To aid them in reproducing them, they have their burgeoning phonemic awareness skillsThese skills allow them to hear and manipulate sounds, and eventually allow them to learn to read.

The fact that a child would substitute a rhyming word or rearrange sounds and segments shows, at some level, that they are able to hear and recognize these sounds as important building blocks of the word.  So it’s not just a cute flub, but also proof that your child’s brain is already wiring itself for the task of reading.

Keep Building

As our little ones begin to add new words, they’re going to make mistakes.  We all make mistakes when we try something new (though few of my grown-up mistakes have been nearly as adorable as my cherub’s cheerful chatter).

At the preschool stage, these language mistakes generally don’t require much direct correction.  What helps preschoolers build language skills is experience — with words, ideas, conversations, stories, and songs.

Over-correcting simple slip-ups can actually have a counter-productive result.  When children are worried about being lectured or ridiculed, they’re less likely to risk, and without the risk of practice and experience, not much progress can be made.

Rather than correcting, try modelling.  For example, if your child says, “I falled and hurt my knee,” respond with something like, “Oh dear!  You fell and hurt your knee?  Let’s get a band-aid on that!”  If your child sits down for a snack of “tawbessies”, comment on how much you love strawberries too.

Give your kids plenty of opportunities to experience new places, things, and ideas and verbalize those experiences to build vocabularies.  Talk– and listen.  Read, rhyme, and sing.  Build language development by giving your child meaningful language experiences — and write down those endearing misspeaks in the meantime.  They’ll disappear all too soon!

What are your favorite preschooler misspeaks?

About Amanda

Amanda Morgan is a full time mom to three busy boys and a part-time trainer and consultant for a non-profit children's organization. She also writes at Not Just Cute, a blog full of ideas that are more than just cute, for preschoolers who are much more than cute too.

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  1. My 3 year old daughter has always thought the word for berries is babies…and so she asks for “strawbabies, bluebabies, raspbabies” it is the cutest thing ever & I hope she is still saying it at 40. (haha ok maybe not at 40…)

  2. My favorite is my son says “crispee” for frisbee. He’s done that since he was about two, I never corrected him just said frisbee. When he was about 3.5 he came running to me after playing with a friend and said “do you know this is a frisbee, not a crispbee?” I said yes, but I think crispbee sounds so cute and he says it that way still.

    That being said both his fa and pa gfa have dyslexia and auditory processing disorders and though my child has an extensive vocabulary (over 100 words at 18 mos) 80-90% of the words he hears for the first time now, he says incorrectly. Because of the genetic predisposition studies have shown toward dyslexia and ADP I am having him tested even though he is only 4 (5 in a week) because I don’t want it to slow his development or cause him to dislike school, etc. His pediatrician thinks I am an alarmist because he is very very vocal but I think parents know their kids and most of the evaluators I have spoken with say that at his age he shouldn’t be getting that many words wrong or continually saying the same ones wrong. e.g., a new teacher is Ms. Kris, first it was Ms. Crash – it has now morphed into Ms. Kah-ris. Its like his mind doesn’t hear it right so he can’t produce it right. I can see that leading to problems throughout his life if we don’t recognize it and get a plan in place now.

  3. I love this article. Toddler language development is so fascinating!

    We have noticed that my 5 year old only has two remaining “misspeaks” and I’m kind of sad to think he’ll eventually stop using them:
    – Brefkist for breakfast
    – Webbons for weapons. It takes every ounce of control not to double over in laughter when he runs in the room and declares: “Aye Matey, Grab your Webbons!”

    My three year old is still developing the muscle tone and proper tongue control to say things the way he wants to. I’m looking forward to hearing which words are misspeaks and his creative ideas, instead of just lisping errors.
    Alissa´s latest post: Styling

  4. At about age 2 1/2 my daughter began to undestand the concept of contractions (can’t, don’t, etc.). She then generalized that “will not” must be “willn’t” and has used it ever since. I thought it was so clever because she had used her knowledge of language to build new knowledge. Now that she is five and in K, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she learns “won’t” but I secretly hope she willn’t! 🙂

  5. Lucy, age four, always ask for “mores” – meaning anything that is in large amounts. You can have more, or even moresS! 🙂

    For a long time Max would call every meal “breakfast” so any time he wanted to eat it was, “what’s for breakfast?”

    Thanks for this post, Amanda. It is amazing what is going on in their minds, isn’t it?

  6. As a speechie, my favourite is when they develop past tense for ‘go’. So when they talk about going to the shops yesterday, it starts with “I go to the shops”. Then they realise that there’s a fancy -ed that goes on the end to show things happened in the past, resulting in “I goed to the shops”. Then they get really clever and figure out that the past tense of go doesn’t follow the -ed rules properly, you’ve got to change the whole word, but they still think to add the -ed – “I wented to the shops”. And then they sound so grown up when they finally tell you that they “went to the shops”. So beautiful!!
    I have found it hard as a parent, wanting to preserve their beautiful baby language, but also wanting to make sure that they grow out of it so they can communicate clearly with others! Thank goodness for video cameras!!
    Emily @ playtalklearn´s latest post: Week of Words… 8th October

  7. “Puz” for because. 🙂

  8. My 2 year old still has many “misspeaks” but a few of my favorites, like most, he cant quite say strawberries or blueberries, and calls them “habb-ies” and “blue-ies.” I love this age!
    Debbye´s latest post: 7 Tips To Successful Sibling Room-Sharing

  9. Thanks for the reminders to be patient with these little guys – their brains are working overtime! I love listening to my boys with all of their new words and their attempts at grammar. Lately my 4 y.o. has been really into rhyming and he will make up long, run-on “sentences” full of made-up rhyming words! My 2 y.o. is a very chatty little guy and I love to hear his little words, like “lellow”. Just last week he started stuttering when saying I, and, in, on; I figured that this is probably a stage he’s going through as his brain is trying to figure everything out. But I’ll keep watching to make sure it doesn’t continue or get worse.

  10. Elaine Sloan says:

    My daughter when she was four and five used to say “I have an I good dear” for I have a good idea. I remember it fondly.


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  2. […] How the silly things kids say show they’re learning  {Amanda Morgan at Simple Kids} These mistakes show us the child is capitalizing on salient characteristics to categorize the item or word. The resulting word may not be right, but it shows a growth in observing, understanding, and conceptualizing. […]

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