The Need for Early Literacy
A three-year study conducted by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley in 1995, found that by age three, children in higher-income families had heard 30 million more words than children in low-income families. On average, the study showed that by age three, a child in a professional family would be exposed to around 45 million words, compared to 26 million words for a working-class family and 13 million words for a family on welfare.
Simply put, children from low-income families hear about 1,500 words less per hour than children from professional families.
Thus, a family’s financial circumstances has a profound effect of how much language exposure a child has in their most formative years and can lead to a 30 million word difference by age three. This is important because children from the Hart and Risley study who were assessed again at age nine showed a very clear link between their academic success and the number of words they were exposed to by age three.
The effects of the word gap persist through the school years, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds. This is because oral language and vocabulary are essential to reading comprehension. Children learn to make sense of the world around them by expanding their vocabulary and the words they use; it is the key that unlocks knowledge and the world of ideas and learning.
The good news is, that if families increase the quantity and quality of their verbal interactions with their children, the gap can be closed. However, this needs to be done in a constructive way and merely exposing children to words isn’t enough. Parents need to engage their child in meaningful conversations and interactions that increase their exposure to new words and reinforce children’s emerging vocabulary. What really counts is the back-and-forth verbal interactions – talking with, singing with, playing with and reading with children.
This is where the Little by Little School Readiness program really helps to reduce the word gap because it is designed to provide the knowledge and resources to low-income families so they can begin to foster and support early literacy habits within their home on a daily basis. Little by Little makes this happens by providing books for the families as well as guidance on the importance of reading and the critical role parents play in improving the school readiness of their children.