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Sound It Out

Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Talk to your baby, narrate what you're doing, talk to your baby, words, words, words!

January 4, 2007

I usually skip over Sunday's USA Weekend section, heading straight for the Wall Street Journal business section (sounds dull, but there's a column I love!). One week USA Weekend ran a light, but good article, called Baby Talk. In it, Kelly Dinardo identified 15 things parents should do for their baby. In addition to important things such as dosing properly and developing baby's sleep habits, Dinardo addressed the importance of talking to your baby.

I'm so glad the author included something about the importance of fostering language skills. The long term effect of talk within families was most carefully documented by Hart & Risley in one of my favorite books, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (reprinted in 2002). Their methodology was painstaking; their results fascinating and really important. Here's a small example of their findings:

In professional families, children heard an average of 2,153 words per hour, while children in working class families heard an average of 1,251 words per hour, and children in welfare families heard an average of 616 words per hour. Extrapolated, this means that in a year children in professional families heard an average of 11 million words, while children in working class families heard an average of 6 million words, and children in welfare families heard an average of 3 million words. By kindergarten, a child from a welfare family could have heard 32 million words fewer than a classmate from a professional family.

These differences can have a huge impact on children's vocabularies and literacy preparedness. If you haven't read this book yet, consider it among your professional book choices for 2007, and check out Todd Risley on a Reading Rockets webcast called From Babbling to Books.


Thank you both! As an individual who works with children and has children in my life, I clearly see the impact that early language development has on them. Instead of brining language and conversation "down" to a low level, let us begin to bring our children and students "up" to a higher level of communication and cognition!

Thanks for your comment Lorraine, and I love your basket idea! I'm sure those tender moments are ones you'll remember forever!

Talking to your baby is vitally important. I think it's beneficial to make the communication relevant. It's also important to speak in sentences. For instance, if you're in the yard with Baby, show and talk about the color and aroma of a specific flower. Notice the bird flying in the blue sky. Talk about its movement while you point and look. Put Baby close to you when you are doing dishes, the laundry or cooking. Talk to Baby about what you are doing. While bathing Baby, talk about the soap, the feel of water, the rubber ducky, toes, and more. And one last point, laugh and talk with a smile. I guarantee you will both love these experiences in communication. When my first born was a baby, I lined a basket that she could sit in. During her "awake time" I carried her around with me. I put her on the kitchen counter while I was working, near the bed while I made it. When she was 18 months, folks often asked about her age because we were communicating in full sentences. I never thought much about it then, but now I know why it happened. Turn the TV off and enjoy Baby!

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