"The researchers differentiated between words overheard from television and adult conversations and those directed at the children. They found that some of the children, who were 19 months at the time, heard as few as 670 'child-directed' words in one day, compared with others in the group who heard as many as 12,000," wrote Rich.
Those who had heard more words were able to understand words more quickly and had larger vocabularies by age 2. "Even in families that are low income and perhaps don't have a lot of education, there are some parents that are very engaged verbally with their kids," said Adriana Weisleder, a graduate student who worked with Fernald. "And those kids are doing better in language development."
There is clearly a need for better preparedness for kindergarten nationwide. Numerous studies have shown that those who are behind in vocabulary and language are at a disadvantage in learning to read, and once children fall behind in third grade, they often cannot catch up, and are more likely to drop out before graduation. I'm a big proponent of quality early education, but putting a program in place might not be simple.
"There is a lot of wishful thinking about how easy it is, that if you just put kids in any kind of program that this will just happen," said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. In a study cited by Rich, "teachers in less than 15 percent of the classes demonstrated 'effective teacher-student interactions.'"
While we are pursuing quality Pre-K, we need to remember that quality matters, too. While we are pursuing a systemic fix to our national preparedness through Pre-K, let's also encourage parents, grandparents and other family members to increase their engagement with babies and toddlers. Especially now that we know how much words matter.