The Power of Words

aileen10_31Many of you might be familiar with the proverb, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”  That seems to be an appropriate statement for young children.  In my last blog I mentioned the critical first 2,000 days of a child’s life and the rate at which the brain is making connections during that time. 

A few weeks ago my colleagues and I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Dana Suskind on her book and initiative called “ Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.” This story began with her role as a Pediatric Cochlear Implant Surgeon.  She was stunned as she noticed the dramatic difference between children before and after cochlear implant surgery.  On follow-up visits some children showed a remarkable increase in their vocabulary, but for others there was little difference.  She decided to take a closer look at why this discrepancy occurred.  What she discovered was stunning.  

Early language exposure made a dramatic impact on a child’s language development.  The impact was so powerful that children under-exposed to language within the first three years of their life revealed a vocabulary detriment of up to 30 million words!  While data shows that children from lower economic and less educated parents tend to be exposed to less diverse language than children from middle class, well-educated parents, Dr. Suskind’s initiative proves that this does not have to be the case.  Through the Thirty Million Words Initiative parents participate in programs designed to purposefully target a child’s language development.  This program utilizes a method called the three T’s.  The three T’s stand for the following actions that parents/caregivers can utilize with young children: Tune in, Talk more, and Take turns.   

  • The phrase “Tune in” can be described as an action of focused attention – perhaps even literally going to the floor where your child is playing.  When we as parents “tune in,” we can engage with our little ones in activities they enjoy.  
  • The second T – “Talk more,” is the core of the three actions.  Purposefully using vocabulary that includes a diverse selection of descriptors can have a dramatic effect on a child’s language development.  Dr. Suskind recommends that this be done in the parent’s native language where the parent is more comfortable expressing ideas and feelings.
  • The final action – “Take turns” refers to the encouragement parents use to motivate children to respond verbally.  When children practice their verbal skills their brain is connecting the sound images they hear to the motor skill of saying words.  

As a research associate at the AIMS Center, I am intrigued about what this means concerning early mathematics.  There is so much math vocabulary that a parent can expose their young child to.  For example their are the topics of shapes, size, and numbers.  The ideas of more, less, after, before, and between can be part of the dialogue between a parent/caregiver and child.  There is math all around us and we can help the youngest among us attend to the structure, symmetry, and beauty of our world in a way that is meaningful and grows their brain. Analyze your vocabulary with young children.  Does it include mathematics?

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