Closing the Word Gap 

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Parents and caregivers have the power to make a change for the better by reading, singing and talking to their children every day to build their vocabulary and stimulate early brain development. As a community resource and partner, First 5 San Diego supports the efforts to close the word gap in children ages 0-5 by running an educational campaign across San Diego to empower parents and caregivers to help bridge the word gap.

The difference in the number of words children should know by a certain age and what they do know has been termed the “word gap,” and it can lead to disparities not just in vocabulary size, but also in school readiness, long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability even decades later.

The First 5 San Diego campaign is taking flight due to recent findings from studies that have been taking place for over fifty years. Research tells us that during the first years of life, children from lower income families with less educated parents, hear almost 30 million fewer words than their more privileged peers. Consequently, what children hear or more importantly, what they do not hear, has a direct effect on what they learn. Children who are not exposed to enough words have vocabularies around half of the size of the counterparts by the age of 3, and therefore start out with a disadvantage before they even step foot into a classroom.

According to the Stanford Language Study, 5-year-old children of lower socioeconomic status score more than two years behind on standardized language development tests by the time they enter school. It also found that the differences in language and development ability begin as early as 18 months of age.

Most parents know that they should read to their children, early and often. But few know that speaking to them is just as important to literacy and language success. And while quality matters when it comes to verbal interaction between parent and child, it turns out, so does quantity. Research shows a direct link between a child’s academic performance in third grade, and the amount of words spoken in their home from birth to age 3. So when it comes to raising successful, school-ready kids, the magic number is 30,000 words per day.

But just how much is 30,000 words per day? Reading Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat 18 times will get you close.

Parents and caregivers talking, singing and reading to their baby doesn’t just promote language development, more broadly, it promotes brain development. Every time there is a positive and engaging verbal interaction with a baby, connections are strengthened within the baby’s rapidly growing brain.

Every age has different milestones that children should reach to be prepared for school. To learn more about the ages and stages of literacy development, here are just a few resources you can check out.

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