By Michael Daugs, Principal, Tiger Elementary
With a combined 34 years of educational service, my wife and I regularly expose our four children to conversations about learning and how to help our students achieve at their highest potential.
Recently, while sitting in a restaurant with our family, we were able to watch a large variety of interactions happening between the families around us. Some families were deep in conversation, others were spending time on their phones, and one family played a game together as they waited for their food. Watching this led us to a conversation about something in the education field referred to as “the word gap”.
In short, the word gap refers to a 1995 study that found children in higher income families will hear about 30 million more words by the age of three than children in lower income households. Later studies have revealed that children who have regular back and forth conversations benefit by building language skills and vocabulary, learn empathy, have stronger relationships, and are more curious.
A recent MIT study was able to show major changes in the growth of the brains in children between the ages of 4-6 who have regular back and forth conversations. This study showed the brain changes did not depend on family wealth.
The beauty of this research is that there are steps we as parents can take to make a difference in the growth of our childrens’ brains and their ability to develop language skills. Neuroscientist Dr. Dana Suskind with the Thirty Million Words initiative recommends that parents use the “three T’s”.
Tune In: Listen to your child and what they are saying to you. This starts at the infant phase when they start making those coos we all love so much. As they grow older, it evolves into tuning into their interests and learning about what makes them excited.
Talk More: It may feel strange, but even when your children are at a young age, talk. Narrate your day, and describe the world around you. As your child gets older, use what you learn while tuning in to have discussions with your child about their interests. Use rich language and talk about the past, present, and future.
Take Turns: It is great for our children to hear what we have to say, but it is equally important for them to participate in back and forth conversations. Asking open ended questions can help spark these discussions and then pause to make space for them to share.
With four children that are active and engaged in school and extracurricular activities, it seems that there is little to no room in our lives to add anything more. What I truly love about these three recommendations is that my wife and I can take action on them while driving kids around town, doing dishes, or sitting down for a family meal.