The more we talk to our children, the more words they hear. The more words they hear, the more they learn.
Researchers Betty Hart & Todd Risley (1995) found that some children heard thirty million words less than others by their 4th birthday. 30,000,000! The children who heard 30,000,000 fewer words than their peers were less prepared academically when they began school. The gap didn’t just end here. As these children entered 3rd grade, their vocabularies were smaller and their test scores were lower than their peers.
A thirty million word difference by age three comes down to ten million words a year or deficit 27,000 words a day. Remember, this is the deficit and means that parents are speaking to their children are saying at 27,000 words in addition to what they are already saying.
How are parents talking so much to their children each day?
Parents and caregivers narrate daily activities to their children. They talk about what is going on throughout the day to their children, explaining that it is raining so we need a rain jacket or that the sun is out so we need to wear sunscreen. They explain what they are doing when they are preparing a meal – first I have to fill the pot with water, now I’m putting in on the stove, then the water has to boil, and now I’m adding the noodles.
These running narratives provide the children with the opportunity to hear new sounds, new words, emotion (does mom or dad sound happy, mad, tired, excited?), and speech patterns (does the voice go up at the end for a question?).
Whether you are rocking out to the latest beat, crooning the classics, or singing a lullaby, songs provide children another opportunity to hear a wealth of words. Songs tell stories and convey emotion. Children begin to hear rhyming patterns, rhythms, and intonation with songs.
Make up some silly songs unique to your child.
They read out loud.
It might be perusing the cereal box, reciting the grocery list or reading a bedtime story, but hearing someone read out loud teaches a child to associate text with speech. Children imitate what they see and may pretend to ‘read’ out loud. By seeing someone read, a child will learn how to hold a book properly and that reading the English language goes from left to right.
So talk to your child every day. These daily doses of conversation and engagement with a child from birth to three add up and pave the way for your success in elementary school.
Jann Fujimoto, MS CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks LLC, a Lake Country speech therapy practice. She helps children become confident and confident communicators by providing speech therapy to their homes, pre-schools, daycares, and afterschool programs. She can be reached at 262-490-5653.