November 6, 2014

Quality Counts More Than Quantity When Talking to Young Children

The quality of communication between children under age 3 and their parents is more important than the number of words the children hear, recent studies have found.

According to a New York Times article, a study presented in October at the White House found that, among children age 2 from low-income families, the use of “shared symbols, rituals, and conversational fluency…were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.”

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said the study’s lead author. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

The recent studies mark the first time researchers “have compared the impact of word quantity with quality of communication.” Advocates say the findings mean educators should rethink slogans such as “close the word gap” that “may oversimplify the challenges facing poor children.”