Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas conducted a study titled Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. They had noticed that the four-year old children who attended the university lab school demonstrated noticeable differences in their expressive vocabularies. Some children were far advanced and others were far behind. Hart and Risley wanted to know what caused the differences so early. They assembled forty-two families from three socio-economic groups, namely welfare, working class, and professional. The researchers visited the homes of these families and tape-recorded and transcribed conversations. They accumulated twenty-three million bytes of information during their 1,300 hours of visits. When they organized the data, the researchers noted that a four-year old from a professional family will have heard 45 million words, the child from the working-class family 26 million words, and the child from the welfare family only 13 million words. By the time the study group reached age three, the professionals’ children had 1,100-word vocabularies to the welfare children’s 525. Similarly, their IQ’s were 117 versus 79 by the time the study finished (Trelease, 2013). Children need to hear words repeatedly in meaningful sentences and questions. Trelease reminds us, “It’s not the toys in the house that make the difference in children’s lives; it’s the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don’t need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child. If I could select any piece of research that all parents would be exposed to, Meaningful Differences would be the one” (Trelease, 2013, p. 16).
Hart, B. & Risley, T. (1996). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young american children. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook. New York: Penguin Books.