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.
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.
On Wednesday, RIF (Reading is Fundamental) celebrated its 50th year. That is 50 years of getting books into the hands of kids. It was started by teacher Margaret McNamara in D.C. She tutored kids and let them keep the books. In 1966 the program was launched with teachers and volunteers in the DC schools. The program has helped not only get books into homes but helped increase reading proficiency and confidence in our youngest readers.
Their mission is an important one. To ensure every child has access to books and every child experiences school success.
I saw the power of RIF when I was a librarian working in inner city Cleveland. A local Kiwanis group had an event each fall at a school within the boundaries of our neighborhood. By the end of the event, the kids went home with at least four books. The volunteers would read the stories with the children, sing songs and participate in crafts and games to go a long with the story. It not only helped build future readers, I saw relationships in the community being built.
2/3 of low income children do not have a book in the home. The recommendation is for kids to be read to for 15 minutes everyday and without books in the home, many of the children from these homes go to school already behind. See this New York Times article from January 2014 about why books matter.
You can help by donating to RIF or finding a local program to support. We want all kids to have their best start in life and in school. Start by supporting the organizations with a mission to help students thrive.
To learn more about this critical program visit the RIF website.
Celebrate RIF’s 50th year by donating books to a local shelter, a little free library, schools or daycares in your area.