When our oldest child was an infant, I talked to her nonstop. It was an ongoing monologue, a narrative of her life in progress. Topics included what we were doing, where we were going, what I was dressing her in, what the weather was like and what was happening next. While she could not understand every word, she could understand the tone and the emotion, and it exposed her to thousands of words at an early age. When she made baby noises, I responded with adult language. I could tell that she was watching and learning every moment that she was awake.
When my husband returned from work in the evenings, he would carry on the monologue. Even before she talked, she was engaged in our conversations.
Two years later, when her brother was born, he was exposed to the same environment, one of constant interaction and language. As they grew older, the immersion in language evolved to include reading. One of my favorite pictures is of our then 2-year-old daughter "reading" to her 5-month-old brother as they sat on our flowered couch -- she holding a soft book and he propped next to her (he was too young to sit up on his own).
Obviously, she was not really reading to him, they were just looking at the pretty pictures together, but they were engaged with their environment.
My husband and I both read to them, especially at night before they went to bed. As they grew older, we encouraged them to read on their own before bedtime. One night, several years ago, our younger child, Robert, took a break from reading and said, "Mommy, I don't read because I like to, I read because it makes you happy."
"That's OK, keep reading," I replied, "it does make me happy."
Now he is a voracious reader, especially of history or military subjects.
A New York Times article this week, "Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K," by Motoko Rich, connects the disparity in words heard by different groups of children, with the need for Pre-K classes. Anne Fernald, a Stanford University psychologist, published a report in "Development Science," that concluded: "At 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew -- 'dog' or 'ball' -- much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the study found, affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low-income homes."
Children with professional parents hear "30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households," the study found.