Yes, babies need to be fed, loved, given plenty of attention and playtime; clean clothes; and a safe place to sleep. All over the world parents try hard to give their babies these essentials.
But educational researchers have uncovered something else babies need, and this they’re not getting equally up and down the income scale.
This missing element costs nothing and is a plentiful as air, yet the devastating lack of it hampers brain development.
The missing element that children are suffering from is a shortage of words. Words that a parent or caregiver can read to them from books, from songs they sing to them, nursery rhymes, personal one-on-one conversation, etc.
The researchers have found that in lower income groups, a parent might say, “Let’s put on your jammies” but that’s the end of it. In wealthier families, a directive like this is only a small part of an ongoing conversation. “Let’s put on your jammies. Your jammies are so soft! What color are these jammies? They’re yellow. And look at these little animals on them. What are those? Those are ducks! And what do ducks say? Quack, Quack! Let’s count how many we can find on your shirt – 1, 2, 3, 4! There are 4 ducks on the front of your shirt!”
For some reason, all that talking isn’t silliness; it’s mind-building. However, words coming from radio or television or from parents or caregivers chatting on cell phones do not benefit. It must be language to the child. This is very important to understand.
Researchers at Rice and Columbia Universities reported eye-opening findings about how many more words middle-class and affluent kids heard day in and out. They determined that affluent children hear 30 million more words in the first three years of life than those in a poorer home.
This finding has astounding and negative consequences. More than any other item in the lives of poor children, this 30-million-word gap has been linked to poor school performance, a failure to learn to read, a failure to graduate from high school, and an inability to prepare for and to enjoy career success.
“At 18 months, every child still has the potential to invent Facebook,’” says Sarah Walzer, chief executive officer of an extraordinary nonprofit called the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP). She has devoted her career to trying to level the playing field for poor children. She has found that some children who begin kindergarten have never even held a book before and so from the first day of school they are behind.
So where do we start with our children and grandchildren?
1. Introduce books to your children at birth. Place cloth books in their crib. Get water proof books for their bath. Place all type of books in a basket next to their car seat. Have books on low bookshelves in their room where they can reach them. And most importantly, have plenty of books by their bed or rocking chair so you can read to them every night before bed.
2. Keep books in other parts of the house. Obviously in a play room but keep a few in your bedroom or bathroom, by the dinner table, and in the family room.
3. Visit your library on a regular basis. Most libraries have story time, computer sections for children, and beautiful books placed in prominent positions and comfortable reading sections.
4. Visit your local book store. Most have wonderful children areas with chairs and tables and bean bags where you can sit and read together.
5. Keep the television off and reduce the amount of time your child (young or older) watches videos. Yes, they are fun to watch but after 30 minutes or one hour, the educational benefits stop.
6. Sing, talk, share stories from your childhood, and recite poetry, allow your children to eat with the family. Plan a certain time each day when you do nothing but talk and read to your child.
To be able to have the time to devote to your child does require all of us to be more organized. I pray that you make it a priority to start reading and talking to your children no matter what their ages.
Manna from Heaven
But what about the parent who feels she didn’t talk or read enough to her child? It’s never too late to start! Even if your children are teens, start by turning off media and taking a walk with them, or have coffee or dessert with them and just communicate. And pray. God tells us in His Word that He can give us back the years:
“Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…and you shall have plenty to eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God Who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame.”
Information for this article came from the October 2014 issue of Reader’s Digest.