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Is Your Child Getting Enough Words

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					Is Your Child Getting Enough Words?

Toddler enrichment classes. Mozart lullabies. Complex educational toys. The
news is full of suggestions on how to give children an academic edge. But when
it comes to raising successful kids, it may come down to something you can’t
buy: words. And 30,000 is the magic number.
Most parents know that they should read to their children, early and often. But
few know that speaking to them is just as important to literacy and language
success. Betty Hart, Ph.D. and Todd Risely, Ph.D. from the University of Kansas
have spent the bulk of their careers studying the effect of talk on kids’ eventual
academic achievement. They recorded more than 1,300 hours of interaction
between parents and children across the racial and economic spectrum.
What they found is startling. Sure, quality matters when it comes to verbal
interaction between parent and child, but it turns out, so does quantity. Their
research, published in the benchmark book, Meaningful Differences, shows a
direct link between a child’s academic performance in third grade, and the
amount of words spoken in their home from birth to age three.
Just how much is 30,000 words? Read Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat 18 times
and you’ll be in the vicinity.
That’s a lot of talk, to be sure. And some parents have the gift of gab more than
others. Hart and Risely’s research found that professional parents were more
likely to talk enough to reach those numbers than blue-collar or welfare parents.
However, kids from families of lower economic status whose parents did talk
close to 30,000 words showed the same results as their wealthier peers: better
academic success in third grade. That's good news, because it means academic
success has less to do with socio-economic status, race, and ethnicity, and more
to do with words—which are free.
Their research also showed that some parents spent more than 40 minutes in an
average hour interacting with their child, while other parents spent less than 15
minutes. Some spoke an average of more than 3,000 words per hour to their
child, while others spoke fewer than 500 words.
And what they said really ran the gamut. Many parents spoke what Hart and
Risely refer to as “business talk”: things like “Put that down” or “Come here”.
Parents that reached or exceeded the 30,000 words a day tended to narrate
what they were doing, or chatter at their kids. All the kids, whether their parents
were talkative or not, heard language. But by age three, the differences in how
many words each child heard was significant: some children had heard over 11
million words per year; others only 3 million.
Hearing the words was only the tip of the iceberg. Hart and Risely found that
between 86% and 98% of words in each child’s vocabulary were words also
recorded in their parent’s vocabulary. And using those words in daily life gave
kids “verbal fluency skills”—in other words, they don’t just observe people talking,
they practice. By the time they’re three, kids in the least talkative American
families accumulate less than 4 million words of expressive language practice,
while the most talkative round up over 12 million words. It’s no wonder they have
an edge.
So if you have little ones at home, talk to them. Talk a lot. It may seem silly to
gab incessantly, but it can make a big difference. And your third grader will thank
you.

				
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posted:3/9/2008
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