Words really do matter … especially in a kid’s early years.

Interesting study reported in The Atlantic

A pair of psychologists – Betty Hart and Todd Risley –  got curious about why some 3 and 4 year old kids are more academically ready than others.

“They devised a novel (and exhaustive) methodology: for more than three years, they sampled the actual words spoken to young children from 42 families at 3 different socioeconomic levels: (1) welfare homes, (2) working-class homes, and (3) professionals’ homes. Then they tallied the quantity and quality of the words spoken to the kids. “


The results were – in the words of the researchers – “astounding”…


Let’s start with the quantity …

Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of over 1,500 more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes.

Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly 8 million words.

So, by age four, amounted to a total gap of 32 million words.

The authors observed a direct correlation between the number of these early “verbal experiences” and academic readiness – both within and across the groups.

Said differently, the more children are talked to as infants, the more academically ready they’ll be  when they hit the kindergarten door.


The researchers also found a substantial gap in tone and nature of words being used.

Hart and Risley also found that, in the first four years after birth, the average child from a professional family receives 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback.

A working- class child receives merely 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements;.

A  welfare child receives 125,000 more discouragements than encouragements.

The bottom line should come as no surprise:

If you want your kids or grandkids to be early achievers in school, read to them, talk to them and, oh yeah, encourage them.

Research says the impact can be “astounding”.

Thanks to MKH for feeding the lead


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