Closing the Gap

You may have heard the statistics that by age three children of professional parents hear 30 million more words than children of parents on welfare. The statistics come from a 1995 study by Hart and Risley at the University of Kansas.

What they discovered is children who are read to and speak with their parents have higher IQ’s at age 3 and have better school performance later in life.

Massaro, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz found, “Word mastery in adulthood is correlated with early acquisition of words.” What we know early in life, impact how we learn later in life.

What is clear from the research is conversations between parents and children are critical in language development and emerging literacy. Conversations alone don’t do the trick because, as Massaro says, our language is pretty basic. We use a lot of gestures and pull from the 5,000 common English words in our heads. Picture books, though, elevate our conversation and improve the vocabulary our kids hear because the words are unique and not used in our everyday.

Although parents can build their children’s vocabularies by talking to them, reading to them is more important.

-Dominic Massaro

What can we as parents do to help our kids get the best start in life?

PBS suggests modeling conversations starting at infancy.

  • Take turns in conversation
  • Vary pitch, speak slow, and repeat often
  • Talk about real-life experiences that are happening. When you are at the store, the playground or completing tasks around the house.
  • Make a space for your children to speak with their friends and siblings
  • Practice open ended questions at the dinner table or in the car
  • Write down stories that your kids create.
  • Read, Read, Read

These skills not only build our children’s capacity for literacy, it also builds trust, self-esteem, builds bonds, and improves listening.

Reading is still the best way to introduce new words and build vocabulary. It opens dialog between caregiver and child and creates new ways to interact with the world around them.

It may feel weird at first speaking with your baby. But as you talk you will notice that he responds in babbles, sounds, gestures and head movements. As your child ages the sounds will go from sounds to short words. Short words to short sentences. And between the ages of 2-3 years  conversations will become more organic. There are also other ways to engage your children, singing, naming what you are picking up at the store, pointing at signs and objects on walks and generally talking about normal, everyday routines.

What all these studies show is when parents and caregivers Speak, Play and Read with their child, literacy skills strengthen and have the best start possible in school.

Happy Reading!

More information on how to encourage conversations:

Reading Rockets: Talking and Listening: Practical Ideas for Parents

Growing Book By Book

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