Saturday, January 25, 2014

You Owe Me 30 Million

Click and watch before you begin reading please.

Why is this so important? Because this is how children learn their language. This is how children get exposed to vocabulary that is not used in their homes. This is how children learn to read and appreciate books. All this is important, because if you read often (more than once a day) to your children, they will do better in school. I’m not talking reading to school-age children, but reading to babies and toddlers.

Reading to children accomplishes more than exposing them to vocabulary, it allows for one-on-one interaction between parent and child. Book time is a time away from your cell phone, totally dedicated to your child. A sacred time is never rushed, but every moment cherished. What joy that baby is getting from her daddy! She may not remember this scene in future years, but this will help cement her relationship with her dad forever. It’s a positive parenting experience for the grown-up too. A chance to just enjoy a child without worrying about discipline or safety.

Being a teacher, I’ll come back to the reading achievement/vocabulary topic. By the time they reach 4 years old, kids living in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than those kids in high-income areas. Thirty. Million. Words. 30,000,000 words.
Betty Hart & Todd R. Risley report in their book, The Early Catastrophe,


In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children from better financial circumstances had far more language exposure to draw from.


It’s no wonder, then, why kids in high poverty situations start out behind and continue along that way throughout school. You may think ot shows the importance of quality preschools, but I will go one step further. In my mind, sending a 4 year old to preschool won’t do much of anything because they are already 30 million words behind. It won’t do any good to teach them numbers and letters early because they need the exposure to language first and foremost, through field trips and activities, not academics. We need to train their parents to talk to them about everything when they are babies, to put down their cell phones, turn off the TV and mp3 player and tell stories, talk to them when they are riding the bus or walking in their strollers or in the grocery store. Ask them questions while driving and answer their questions with more than a short answer if appropriate.

I wrote a blog entry in July of 2011 about a tale of two mothers ( where I observe the reactions of two mothers to their preschoolers on the trolley ride. It shows exactly why there is such a huge vocabulary gap. Now, I am not saying that every poor mother doesn’t talk enough to her children, but I have seen too much of the not talking to know that it seems to be prevalent in the inner city neighborhoods. The poor kids whose parents talk to them a lot are the ones who do well in school. Period.

So if you are a parent of a baby or young child, talk to them. A lot. Tell them why you decided on hamburger for dinner, how long it takes to cook, what the ingredients are and what colors are the vegetables and fruits, hiw you know the meat is cooked. Where that meat comes from, How the farmer raises his crops and takes care of his animals. Take a ride to the beach and feel the sand while describing how it smells and feels, Watch the ocean roll in and try to figure out whether the tide is going on or out. Imitate the seagulls, dig a hole to China, watch the boats as they go by. Are they sailboats or motor boats? Fishing boats or tourist boats? Eat seafood that was just caught. Go to the mountains and watch a stream and the insect larvae and fish on the water. Observe a Great Blue Heron catch a fish dinner, watch for nests and other birds, listen to the bird calls and try to identify the birds that way. Camp in a tent and cook over a campfire.

You can observe cars, trucks, people, animals, houses, tall buildings and river boats and animals right here in the city. Go forth and TALK about it. Make that 30 million word deficit disappear.
You owe your kid 30 million words. Pay up!

Here is a baby whose mom has obviously been reading to this almost-two-year-old toddler. I think she'll be in the top for language, she's "reading" already!

Still learning!

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