19 - 21 Months

The toddler game of who, what, where, why, how?

“Who, what, where, why, and how” form a particularly important class of words because they’re simple, direct, and so easily connect to the very things that toddlers are most interested in now. They’re also great question words, and you may have noticed that your toddler loves questions! Note that we’ve left out when because time is a more challenging and complex concept; that will come later.

Your toddler can understand a lot more language right now than they can express. They can comprehend (but may not yet say) at least 2 new words a day. Right now is a great time for this type of language exploration, especially since games like these offer all kinds of opportunities to explore cause and effect.

When you introduce “who, what, where, why, how” in deliberate little lessons, you are empowering your toddler to begin explaining the very things that interest them the most—what something is, who someone is, why something happened, where something is, and how something works. Soon these will stop being your questions and start being your toddler’s questions, and that’s the beginning of intellectual curiosity!

You already use these words all the time when talking to your toddler, but the way you build the bridge between question and answer brings these important words to life.

Here’s how to make “who, what, where, why, how” come to life:

Make the connection

  • The question and the answer have to go together: “where are your shoes? Here they are!”, “Who is that? That is our neighbour, Marta!”
  • Emphasize the word you are introducing, as if you were teaching someone how to speak a foreign language. In some ways, you are 🙂 
  • Don’t try to do all of them at once; focus on one word for a week or two. Soon, your toddler will begin to show evidence of understanding, even if they can’t yet articulate the words on their own. 

Play “where is it?”

  • Emphasizing the word “where,” say to your toddler, “where are your shoes?” (or some other familiar object). Then go find the shoes together and say, “here they are!”
  • Show your toddler a favourite ball. Hide it (while they’re watching) and say “where did it go?”. Then have your toddler find it and say, “here it is!”
  • When they seem to understand, ask them “where is the cup?”, and see how they respond without your help.

Play “who is that?”

  • Before introducing someone, you can say to your toddler, “who is that?” Then answer, “that is Uncle Theo.” 
  • First try this with family members and then with friends and other people you see out and about.
  • Point out named characters in books: “who is that? That is Max.”
  • Go around the home and point out pictures of friends and family, asking who each person is and providing the answer. 

Play “why?”

  • The question “why? ” is more complicated for a toddler but can still be introduced now. 
  • One fun game with a sibling or other family member is to face an open door that leads into a bedroom or bathroom. Have the family member stand inside the room, behind the door and out of view, and push it close.
  • The door will close in front of you and your toddler for no clear reason. Then you can ask aloud, “why did that door close? Why?” Walking together, slowly push open the door and, pointing to the family member, exclaim “oh, __ pushed the door closed, that’s why.”
  • You can also use the word why when getting ready for a meal: “why do we need to wash your hands? Because we’re about to eat!”  

Play “how?”

  • The use of the word “how” can help explain the way things work. 
  • You can use examples such as “this is how you kick the ball” or “here is how you turn on the tap” or “this is how we wash our hands” or “this is how I use my fork.”
  • Ask questions: “how did the ball get on the roof?” “Can you show me how you opened the drawer?” 

Play “what is that?”

  • The word what is about naming things. Point out various objects and say “what is that?” and then answer “that is an apple.”
  • Use the word what when naming objects in books, pictures, or out on a walk.


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Posted in: 19 - 21 Months, Language, Communication, Speech Development, Child Development

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