Monday, April 27, 2015

Study: Using encouraging language, conversing with children impacts their IQ, educational outcomes

Before children even attend school, their interactions with parents at home play a huge role in determining their grasp on vocabulary and conversation. University of Kansas psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that "on average, children from professional families heard more than 2,150 words an hour," Sarah Sparks writes for Education Week. "Those in working-class families heard about 1,250 words. Children in families on welfare heard little more than 600 words an hour."

While the number of words is important, how words are used also matters, said Barbara T. Bowman, a child-development professor and co-founder of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute. Children of professionals heard twice as many unique words and twice as many encouraging words than children in other family situations. According to the research, more than 85 percent of the "vocabulary, conversational patterns and language complexity of the 3-year-olds had come from their families," Sparks writes. The vocabularies of children of professionals were nearly twice the size of the vocabularies of children from families receiving welfare.

Dale Walker, an associate research professor at the Juniper Gardens Children's Project in Kansas City, Kan., did a followup study and found that children from kindergarten to 3rd grade who had heard the least words at home "were still at a disadvantage years later. I always knew where to find them; frequently, they were in the hallways for behavior problems."

An important implication of the study is the lack of exposure to encouraging language, said W. Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. One problem is that "we segregate low-income children in preschool programs just for them. Children were already replicating these [family] patterns in their own interactions. What did we think the consequences would be of kids who get together and interact with each other largely negatively?"

According to the study, by age 3, children of professionals would hear approximately 45 million words, while children in poverty would only hear 13 million. "By age 3, a child's IQ was more closely related to the number of words he had heard than to any other factor, including parents' overall education or income level," Sparks reports.

Just because a family has a low socioeconomic status or the parents did not attend college doesn't mean they can't engage in positive conversations with their children. "Conversational turns are vastly more important than the number of words a child is exposed to," Jill Gilkerson, LENA Research Foundation's director of child-language research, said. One study found that students who scored in the top 10 percent on preschool language tests engaged in conversations with their parents involving 18 more turns per hour than children who scored in the other 80 percent. (Read more)

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