“By 18 months, babies have heard 4,380 hours of spoken language…If AAC learners only see symbols modeled for communication twice weekly for 20-30 minutes, it will take 84 years for them to have the same exposure to aided language as an 18 month old...”
Twenty little fingers caress smooth paper. Four blinking eyes watch letters dance, absorb color and texture. Two little noses delight in new book smell.
Amaze Girl interrupts the story to comment. Wonder Boy giggles. There is a torrent of unrelated-to-the-tale language.
Reading lights a child’s imagination, incites curiosity, fuels play. It’s a sensory experience; chocolate for the brain, a hot toddy for the heart. It’s I love you and You’re more important than Reese’s Cups.
But reading is not the best way to grow a child’s brain.
What’s more important than reading? The words that happen in-between.
“Parent talk is…the most valuable resource in our world…In the same way, the lack of language is the enemy of brain development…”
Thirty Million Words, Building a Child’s Brain, by Dana Suskind
A University of Kansas study shows that children whose parents talk to them from birth to age three adopt language more quickly and are more successful in school by the end of third grade. (The Early Catastrophe)
The study revealed a correlation in the number of words a child hears to socioeconomic status: children from wealthier families heard more words than those raised in less affluent households. Thirty million more words, in fact.
“Talking and language…is food for the developing brain. The words you speak, and how you speak them, (build) baby’s brain.”
No, tv doesn’t count. Neither do video games, texting, computer or phone apps. Parental imperatives like “pick up your socks/sit down/do your homework/brush your teeth” add to the total number of words a child hears but are not brain boosters either.
What matters most? Dinner table conversation. Bath time chatter. Focused narration, description, recitation, affirmation. Counting bath bubbles, relaying textures, color, likes and dislikes. It’s everyday use of consequential words to share ideas.
A daily dose of focused parental patter lays critical groundwork for a child’s future literacy, discipline and academic success.
What about kids who arrive at elementary school language-deprived? Children neglected in their early years, those raised on tv? Kids with difficulty communicating due to autism, ADD/ADHD and other learning differences? Will increasing the quality and quantity of parental talk help them succeed? Does modelling use of a child's talker matter?
Dana Suskind founded the Thirty Million Word Initiative, which seeks to close the word gap. She recommends parents employ the Three T’s:
Tune In: turn off the tv. Put down the phone. Engage.
Talk More: ask questions, narrate tasks, use rich words.
Take Turns: gestures, babbles, scripting and aided language are conversational; respond with words to keep the talk going.