Farnsworth File: Young children need constant exposure to words

Date: September 28, 2018
Source : Green Bay Press Gazette

Most parents know that books are important tools for their young children to develop the literacy skills that they will need during their school years and adult life. It’s true that kids need constant reading practice to develop and improve their literacy skills throughout their school years.

However, did you know that one of the most important predictors for future performance is the amount of words that children hear before they are three years old? That’s right — even before infants and toddlers can understand words, follow a story, or verbalize on their own — they need constant exposure to spoken words. Whether it is hearing books being read out loud or just listening to their parents, exposure to words is most vital when children are 0-3 years old.

In a 2003 study (“The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3”), Betty Hart and Todd Risley observed parents with their children aged 7-9 months up to 3 years old. They found dramatic differences in the number of words that babies were exposed to, based on household income.

Babies from the lowest-income households were exposed to about 616 words every hour, while children from the highest income bracket were exposed to 2,153 words per hour! The effect is cumulative, adding up to a potential shortfall of millions of words before a child is even in preschool.

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Word exposure is strongly correlated with future vocabulary and language skills. So even if your baby isn’t verbal yet and can’t answer you, keep talking! They are absorbing your vocabulary, speech patterns and tones.

Of course, we highly recommend reading out loud as many books to your baby as possible. Reading books on a wide variety of topics will expose your baby to vocabulary and concepts you might not use on a daily basis.

And don’t forget to use words with your baby throughout the day — narrate what you are doing together, describe what you are seeing as you drive down the road, “include” the baby in conversations with others — anything works as long as you’re speaking out loud to them!

It is the simplest way to help your child attain the critical exposure to words that they need to be successful later in life.

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