From "The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3" by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. (2003). from Rice University “Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings were unprecedented, with extraordinary disparities between the sheer number of words spoken as well as the types of messages conveyed. After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.”
I read about this discrepancy in a magazine earlier in the week and could not let it go. 30 million word difference…It is easy to say that in America if one works hard enough one can break through all barriers including socioeconomic ones but how true or easy is that. I work in a head start building where children ages 3-5 come for ½ a day and receive 2 meals a day. It is in a preschool setting so books are read and teaching occurs but according to the study by 3 years old the difference is already in place. Poverty of cash and food and housing but also a poverty of words. I keep shaking my head in disbelief. This is not about limited resources, words are free, they can be given anywhere and any place yet in certain at risk populations they are limited. According to another study I read, “Low-income parents underestimate their power to influence their children’s cognitive development, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. Wealthy parents spend more time engaged in these activities because they have better access to information, and O’Leary argued that when parents understand the impact they have on their child’s cognitive development, they invest. Parents are not aware of the importance of their words.”
How do we make a difference if it is the parents influence? I can pray but action is also needed such as trying to come along side new moms and discuss the importance of talking to their babies, sharing books and participating in literacy programs for adults and little ones and encouraging participation in story hours at local libraries.