Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Early Word Gap

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

The first few years of a child’s life are developmentally extremely important. This is a statement that has been repeated often. Experiences as an infant set the stage for everything from linguistic competency to school readiness, and research evidence continues to back this point.

In a 1995 longitudinal study of 42 families with children under the age of three, Professors Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley[1]  revealed that differences in infants’ early linguistic experiences are linked to linguistic ability at age three as well as performance on vocabulary and comprehension tests at age nine.  Children who lived in households where they encountered an average of 487 utterances per hour from parents had a higher rate of vocabulary growth at age three than children who encountered an average of 176 utterances. Moreover, rate of vocabulary growth was found to be strongly associated with a child’s performance on tests of receptive vocabulary, tests of language development and tests of reading comprehension at age nine.

Parents’ linguistic interaction with their children is very important. However, it is not only a matter of quantity. Hart and Risley also found that children in households with lower levels of linguistic interaction were more likely to hear fewer affirmative statements and more prohibitive statements than children in households where interaction is more prevalent.  In fact, lower interaction children may hear as many as five affirmatives and 11 prohibitions per hour compared to 32 affirmatives and five prohibitions in higher interaction households.

As the research iterates, the early years are “a unique time of helplessness” where nearly all a child’s experiences are mediated by interaction with parents and caregivers. It is also a critical time in development because the amount of stimulation of the central nervous system is literally shaping the brain.  Talking, and reading, to children are therefore important activities that no parent can afford to forgo.

This task, however, does not need to be overwhelming.  Simple routine activities can provide a wealth of opportunities for linguistic interaction. And, instead of a detailed description of what parents can and may do, we’ve taken inspiration from Reading is Fundamental[2] and put together a fun, easy to use calendar of activities that can be downloaded HERE .  We hope you find it useful.

[1] Hart, B.,& Risley T.R. (1995). Meaningful Differences In The Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.