One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child doesn’t cost anything — it’s free.
The gift? Words.
A new study from Stanford University offers the latest evidence that the greater the verbal interaction between a parent and young child, the more the child will ultimately be prepared for school.
A study in the 1990s found that a significant gap between language-rich children and language-poor children appears by at least age three. The new Stanford study says the disparity in children’s vocabulary and verbal understanding can manifest itself even earlier, at 18 months.
The study also found that by age 2, “affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low- income homes,” the New York Times reported.
Research also has found a significant verbal- skill disparity among children from low-income families, stemming from varying levels of parental interaction with the child.
Indeed, the article said, a study that tracked students from kindergarten through middle school found that “a child’s score on a vocabulary test in kindergarten could predict reading comprehension scores in later grades.”
In light of these findings, it’s appropriate that early childhood is receiving increased attention nationwide and in the Midlands.
In Nebraska, nonprofits and school districts have long pointed to the need for stronger attention to this issue, and the state’s business community is putting increased focus on it.
The Legislature has been taking steps forward. It increased state grants for early childhood needs and established a quality rating system for large, publicly funded child care centers.
Lawmakers directed the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties to focus on early childhood education, building on efforts in place by the member school districts.
The University of Nebraska is contributing in a major way, too, with the establishment of its new Buffett Early Childhood Institute, headed by a nationally respected education expert recruited by NU from Chicago.
All of these efforts can make a difference. The most far-ranging one, though, can take place on a smaller scale, right at home, with Mommy, Daddy and other adults reading to their children and talking with them.
Scientific studies and common sense both provide the same important lesson: One of the best things parents and grandparents can do to help children is to flood them not only with love but also with words.