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  • Kids Who Are Read to Since Birth May Know More Than a 'Million Words' Before Kindergarten

    It's not just about how many words your child know before he starts school but also how well he can carry out conversations.
    by Rachel Perez .
Kids Who Are Read to Since Birth May Know More Than a 'Million Words' Before Kindergarten
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  • Parents are always concerned about their child hitting significant milestones, especially talking milestones. Is he babbling already? Has he said his first word? How many words does he already know and can say? One of the simple and effective ways to help make this happen is by reading to your child. (Check here the warning signs of speech and language delay from birth to age 3.) 

    A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, found that children who were read to from birth until right before he starts kindergarten know about a MILLION words more than their peers who were never read to by their parents or caregivers.

    "The million-word gap," as the researchers coined it, could play a vital role in the differences in children's vocabulary and reading development.

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    Aim to read to your child at least one book every day

    Researchers from Ohio State University chose 30 children's books from the 100 most circulated board books and picture books, which the Columbus Metropolitan Library had identified. They found that board books contained an average of 149 words while picture books include an average of 228 words.

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    With this data, the researchers assumed the kids would be read to by a parent or caregiver from birth through age 5 by the time he starts kindergarten. The child would hear words from board books from birth through age 3 and then words from picture books for the next two years. Every reading session would include one book.

    The study found that young children whose parents read them five books a day would have heard about 1,483,300 more words than kids who were never read to since birth. Kids who are read only one book a day will have heard about 296,660 more words by age 5 than their peers who were not regularly reading with their parent or caregiver.

    If parents who said they "never read" to their child actually read one book once every other month, that puts the child's word tally to 4,662 words by age 5. Kids who were read to once or twice a week would have heard 63,570 words while those who were read to three to five times a week would have heard 169,520 words by the time they start kindergarten.

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    Word gap vs. conversation gap

    “The word gap of more than 1 million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those who were never read to is striking,” Jessica Logan, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University, said in a press release

    "Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily," she added.

    The study's authors said 1-million word gap was a conservative estimate. As the press release points out, the vocabulary word gap in this study is different from the conversational word gap and may have different implications for children, Logan said.

    “This isn’t about everyday communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home,” she said.

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    Some of the words and concepts in book about animals or the solar system are not always likely to come up in everyday conversation. “The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” Logan said.

    Exposure to an extensive vocabulary and learning new words through books is great for kids. "It’s important to let kids have a dialogue with you even if it doesn’t seem to be about the book," speech-language therapist Anthony D. Koutsoftas, Ph.D., shared in an article on SmartParenting.com.ph. Parents should not limit story time to just the reading text and words on the book but also encourage kids to ask questions and to relate to the story with real-life experiences.

    Experts have always emphasized that parents should focus on finding time to engage in meaningful interactions with their little one. Dialogic reading, wherein the child plays a more active role, and back-and-forth conversations can help boost a child’s language and brain development. While you're at it, many point out that print books have far more impact than digital ones.

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