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January, 2016

Word Poor vs. Word Rich

by Larry

As noted at the Thirty Million Words Initiative website, studies from as early as the 1960s of what kids hear and then of their own speech, from low vs. middle to high income families, have found that the former hear roughly 30,000,000 fewer words in their first four years of life, an immense spoken word gap, than children from the latter households.

Why does this gap occur? Speculation includes that there are a lot of busy single-parent households and/or that adults are often working more than one job among those with lower incomes. Time constraints alone mandate less opportunity in any given day for interaction with their children. Kids left in day care centers may not receive there the same type of one-on-one verbal stimulation as is usually the case, for instance, between a toddler and his or her mother.

Speech and language therapy (

There are significant correlations between those who have heard less spoken words in early childhood and their having academic as well as intellectual deficits down the road. Researchers have discovered that having had a word poor setting in early childhood does indeed limit young people's future capacities. On the other hand, it is believed that something as straightforward as adults being positively interactive with children while adding spoken words to their environments can make a big difference in their potentials later on. Innovators are now pushing programs, including The Thirty Million Words Initiative and Talk with Me Baby, to assure young folks from lower income homes receive as much verbal stimulation as anybody!

The initiative involves parents and other caregivers from diverse backgrounds in learning from modeled interactions with children and actively enhancing kids' verbal environments. Results demonstrate improved parent-child verbal involvement as well as higher levels of the kids' intellectual and academic activity.

Early childhood music training, foreign language learning, outdoor play, good nutrition, and quality health care are all also correlated with more creativity, intellectual capacity, and/or academic achievement, yet the intervention felt to give the biggest bang for the buck in terms of progress for kids is enriched verbal stimulation accompanied by good caregiver-child interaction.

30,000 words a day of engagement with one's young kids is the suggested ideal because that level of daily spoken work verbal stimulation in kids' home environments is an evident threshold from which children tend to thrive in their subsequent academic pursuits, while kids who get significantly less than this later tend instead to have trouble with reading and in school generally.

For those such as parents, grandparents, therapists, other caregivers, or volunteers interested in helping children reach and maintain the recommended level of verbal stimulation, what are ways we can readily implement doing so? They are not rocket science. Examples include:

  1. Read fun age-appropriate books with and to the child.

  2. Play cool verbal games with the kids.

  3. Talk with young people while showing interest, smiling or laughing, and having good eye contact.

  4. Verbally interact with them about things in which they are already interested.

  5. Alternate with kids the telling of and listening to entertaining stories, encouraging their creativity and increased word usage.

For other ideas, see the "More Than Baby Talk" website.

Happily, the habit of engaging with kids in this fashion is seldom an onerous chore. We might even find it immensely rewarding ourselves!

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