Child development experts have long known the importance of reading and talking to your young children to give them a leg up in their academic development and other crucial milestones in life. According to Dr. Dana Suskind, the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, the most important thing you can do for your child is to have conversations with them. Reading aloud to your baby builds listening, memory and vocabulary skills. It also introduces concepts such as letters, numbers, shapes and colors. All in all, it builds your baby’s brain and helps them on their journey to communicating and reading themselves earlier on.
Putting a Number to Words
While we’ve known just how important this exposure is, we were able to put a number to just how many words are important for kids to hear in 2009, when doctors Betty Hart and Todd Risely from the University of Kansas published their research in the benchmark book, Meaningful Differences. According to the doctors, that crucial number is 30,000 words a day.
While 30,000 words a day may seem like quite a lot, the research from Dr. Hart and Dr. Risely consistently showed that children from birth to age three who were exposed to that many words a day had greater academic achievement in third grade than those who were exposed to fewer words in early childhood. And while professional parents were more likely to read this many words to their children compared to blue collar parents, the good news was that children of lower economic status had similar academic achievement when their parents reached the 30,000-word mark.
The bottom line is that this research is good for parents from all walks of life: It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic standing is when it comes to your children’s chances of success in school. It all comes down to reading and talking consistently, which is something we can all do to help our kids in their development.
Words Over Time
What’s more, when you think about how those words accumulate over time, you can really begin to see why it’s so important for helping children develop their vocabulary and other academic skills. By age three, the children in the 30,000 words a day camp had heard over 11 million words, while those in the lower category may have only been exposed to around three million words.
The ENRICH Literacy Program
At Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, we are aware of the importance of reading aloud to young children. The research cited above is just one study in a long line of them that show just how significant it truly is. Our dedication to this initiative is so strong, in fact, that we developed the ENRICH Literacy Program, which gifts bundles of books to families of young children who need them.
The ENRICH Literacy Program was created in collaboration with clinicians to educate and empower all parents to engage, nurture and read to infants and children. The program provides resources for parents and educators in our community to increase literacy rates from birth and beyond.
ENRICH not only provides books to parents in need, but to schools, as well, through their ENRICH School Clubs program. Schools who are eligible for the program will receive books or funding toward ENRICH book purchases, as well as the opportunity to host a special event at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
Beyond reading aloud, there are also several small and simple ways that parents can talk more to their young children every day, such as:
- Naming body parts and clothing as you are dressing your baby.
- Naming foods and talking about the colors of food when you are eating.
- Singing songs when it’s time to take a bath.
- Using a variety of voices for different characters when reading a story.
- Using a mirror to show facial expressions while interacting with your baby.
- While grocery shopping, talking to your baby about the colors, shapes and sizes of the food you are purchasing.
You Can Help
If you’re interested in participating in or donating to the program, visit our ENRICH Literacy Program page for more information.