By Christopher Madison for MumsVillage
PARENT TALK IN THE FIRST FOUR YEARS OF LIFE IS THE GIFT PROPELLING OUR BRAINS TO DEVELOP TO THEIR OPTIMUM POTENTIALS.
A groundbreaking study called Thirty Million Words found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4 th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into primary school, had larger vocabularies, were better readers, and got higher exam scores.
THE PROCESS IS SO EFFORTLESS THAT MOST PARENTS ARE NOT CONSCIOUS OF IT.
A child’s brain, unlike their other organs, is basically unshaped. It is dependent on the environment for stimulus: parent talk. Those first four years, when 85 percent of our biological brain growth happens, parent talk is the brain’s essential nutrition. At no other time in life will brain growth be as robust or influential. The bottom line is regardless of language: Children from word-poor homes ended up with smaller vocabularies and worse school performance. The kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind.
Kenyan studies have also demonstrated this same large inequality in children’s early language environments, with children from families of lower socio-economic status hearing fewer words than their peers from a higher socio-economic status. Clearly, not having money in your pocket has never made a brain not grow. But, the more parents talk, the more words they use, the smarter children get regardless of socio-economic factors. Speech expands their minds.
Enriching a child’s early language environment does not require changing cultural practices and values or idiomatic speech. The key, regardless of income and accent, is to enriching a child’s early language environment by promoting parent-child interaction. Encouraging social mobility really is all talk.