June 8th 2013

Whoever said that “Talk is cheap,” got it wrong. Talk, it turns out, is priceless. In fact, as far as success in school is concerned, vocabulary is the prime indicator. All we need to do to provide our children with a large vocabulary is talk to them…a lot. And, now that I think about it, talk is, indeed, less expensive than just about anything.

On the first day of Kindergarten some children have already heard 45 million words, others have heard 26 million, and others 13 million words. Research by Betty Hart and Tom Risely, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Lives of American Children” addresses the question of why children from low income homes remain well behind their more economically advantaged peers later in school. Researchers recorded verbal interaction of ordinary families as they talk to their very young children and followed the progress of the children for years afterwards.

The study began by recording each month – for 2-1/2 years – one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families, categorized as professional, working class, or welfare families. By age 3, the recorded spoken vocabularies of the children from the professional families were larger than those of the parents in the welfare families. Between professional and welfare parents, there was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour. Extrapolating this verbal interaction to a year, a child in a professional family would hear 11 million words while a child in a welfare family would hear just 3 million. Hart and Risley’s follow-up studies at age 9 show that the large differences in the amount of children’s language experience were tightly linked to large differences in educational outcomes.

Even children who attended preschool programs specifically designed to equalize opportunity, remained at a disadvantage years later in school. According to the authors, “the most important aspect to evaluate in child care settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, between children and their caregivers.” Children who experience positive interactions with adults who take the time to read aloud, and talk about things going on around them will have a better chance to succeed at school.

Classes designed to empower parents to give their children the best advantages are available this summer. READY! For Kindergarten classes for parents of three and four year old children will meet once a month for three months. Participating parents will learn about child development, hands-on activities, and receive take-home materials for “playing with a purpose” with their preschool age children. Children’s Reading Foundation of Dona Ana County (CRF-DAC) will host parent classes this summer funded by “Innovative Approaches to Learning,” a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Locations, so far, are Caesar Chavez Elementary School, Community Centers in Butterfield, Organ, and Chaparral, Sunland Park Senior Center, Victoria en Jesus Christo Church in Anapra, WIC Nutrition Office in Sunland Park, Tierra Madre Community Center, the Franklin Apartments Conference Room in Anthony, and Hatch Library. Classes and materials are free. To register, contact Trudy Gallegos, trudygg@gmail.com, phone: 312-6262.

Choosing a daycare setting that provides lots of language interaction is important. Parents can begin by asking questions and observing caregivers in action. In Las Cruces, parents in search of a preschool for their children are invited to attend a Preschool Fair hosted by Branigan Library, 200 E. Picacho Ave, on Saturday, May 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The fair is free and registration is not required. Children’s Librarian Sandy Van Landingham, 575-528-4073, can provide more information.

This weekend, in honor of Mothers Day, we temporarily amend our slogan “Read with a Child Everyday” to “Read with Your Mother.”

Local stores are stocked with a great selection of books that feature themes of love between mother and child. For little more than the price of a card, a beautiful paperback book can bring back happy memories for both of you. Just add your own handwritten dedication in the front to create a lasting gift.

“The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, a sweet children’s book, poignantly expresses the life-long bond between mother and child. A raccoon mother communicates her enduring love in a secret and lasting way.

“Love to Mama” is an anthology of poems collected by poet Pat Mora to celebrate mothers and grandmothers. Thirteen Latina writers and illustrators create rich linguistic and visual messages that make this book meaningful to adults and accessible to children.