[A repeat from September 3, 2015] Donna and I were driving in Wisconsin with our 3-1/2 year old granddaughter. We talked. And talked. . . . . “There’ s a field of corn.” “There’s a field of wheat.” “Those are cherry trees.” “Look at the cows. They’re called Holsteins.” Some terms we discussed in Spanish. We went to a petting farm and fed the pigs and goats and cows. Learned about Texas longhorns, Brahma bulls, sunflowers, wells (complete with bucket), we counted bags of corn used to feed the goats and sheep, we looked at wild turkeys, discussed the purpose of silos, and . . . . . and on. And on. All in one day. . . .
I pondered the fact that our granddaughter at age 3-1/2 is perhaps several miles ahead of disadvantaged kids — who do not have the “hands on” tutelage of parents, grandparents, caregivers and friends. I read an article that said that said that children from middle to upper socio-economic families will hear millions of words more than children born into poverty. And this abbondanza of words forms a critical base for future learning, performance and advancement. Add to this that children from middle and upper income families receive hundreds of thousands more affirmations of encouragement and fewer of discouragement (the reverse metric from welfare families).
Betty Hart and Todd Risley penned an incisive book on this vexing situation: The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3. The number of words a child hears in the first few years of life is tied directly to educational achievement. And is inversely proportional to problems a child may encounter later in life. The big question is what do we do about it?