A friend recently posted a link to an article on NPR’s Web site (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/10/132740565/closing-the-achievement-gap-with-baby-talk) that describes the link between the number of words spoken to a young child and his achievement later in life. It described a gap between children from low-income households and those from professional households once theyreached preschool, and the difficulties researchers had in finding a way to close that gap.
Researchers eventually turned their attention to the time before the children entered preschool, and tallied the number of words spoken to the children. On average, children in homes on welfare heard 600 words per hour, while children in professional homes heard 2,100. This translates to 13 million and 48 million words respectively by the age of four. You can see how this gap happens, and why it is such a challenge to address once the children come to preschool.
So, why the whole academic article review? Am I trying to inform you about the importance of talking to your child each day? Well, yes, but that’s not my main point. As a former and probably future elementary school teacher, I saw the after-effects of this gap on a daily basis. It’s a real problem, and something that’s being addressed by programs that teach and encourage lower-income parents to interact with their very young children. But what I really took from the article was: “Whew.I’m not completely insane, I’m just setting my children up for success!”
You see, it’s a pretty rare occurrence that I get to go anywhere in the car by myself. But when I do, I often find myself narrating the journey to the empty car seats in the back of the vehicle. I’ve spent most of the past five and a half years giving a running narrative of my day: asking one-month-old Gracie what we should have for dinner, discussing grocery suggestions with an infant Max, describing cookie-baking procedures to toddler Jack, and now including Zachary in our daily discussions. We talk about cows along the side of the road: what they look like, what they’re eating, what they say. We talk about the order of our day: what we’ll do now, where we’re going later, what they can expect. So I tend to follow that routine, whether there’s someone listening or not.
I’m a social being by nature (if you haven’t guessed that by now!) and I’m a pretty big talker. But still, talking to empty seats is nuts. I guess at least it shows I’m in the habit of talking to my kids, and I’m doing my part to help build their vocabularies and help them be successful in school and beyond. Hopefully I’ll learn to check the rear-view mirror before I ask about cows though.that’s a little embarrassing!