Close the Word Gap

Close the Word Gap

Help build your child's early developmental language skills

In the 1990s, a seminal study by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley demonstrated that by the age of three, children living in lower socioeconomic status homes are likely to have heard 30 million fewer words than children living in higher income households. This has huge implications not only for literacy but also on the development of the brain itself. By age three, our brains have grown 80% to 85% of its adult size, establishing many of our neurological pathways for learning. No doubt, this is a critical time for brain development.

According to Dr. Dana Suskind, professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, “Babies’ brains grow with language.” And although children living in poverty are still of greatest concern, our increasing dependence on technology places even more children at risk. As screen time replaces conversation and storytelling, more young children are hearing fewer words than ever before.

Especially for one-parent households where there are only so many hours in a day and no one to help share the load, the prospect of closing a 30 million word gap sounds pretty daunting. The good news is programs throughout the country are helping to make it easier by providing some simple, easy-to-use guidelines on how you can support your child’s brain development through talking.

Resources to help parents close the word gap range from public-awareness campaigns and at-home tools (such as Too Small to Fail) to reading pledges (such as Thirty Million Word Project: Take 20, Read Plenty!) to “word pedometers” (like LENA Research Foundation and Providence Talks) that measure and track how many and what kinds of words a child is exposed to throughout the day.

There may be a program in your own community, but here are some quick links to get you started:

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