Did you know that the number of words a child is exposed to between ages 0-3 is significantly related to that child’s ultimate intellectual and academic success? Studies have shown that the more parents talk to their children, the faster children’s vocabularies grow and the higher the children’s IQ test scores are at age three and later.  

These studies have also revealed a significant inequality in children’s early language environments: children from families of lower socioeconomic status hear approximately thirty million words less than their peers from higher income families.  This means that socioeconomically disadvantaged children can walk into their very first classroom less prepared than their classmates, and the achievement gap only grows from there. Dr. Dana Suskind,  founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, is determined to help parents level the playing field.

Dr. Suskind presented her Thirty Million Words Initiative in a  “Master Class” during the NBC News Education Nation 2013 summit last week.  Dr. Suskind, who is also a  Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago and Director of the Pediatric Cochelar Implant Program, developed a program to help parents learn how to use language skills to optimize their child’s brain development and ability to learn. As noted on the Thirty Million Words’ website, found here, Dr. Suskind and her team believe that neither genetics nor a lack of potential lie at the heart of this problem; rather, the thirty million word gap is a function of parental knowledge. Many parents are simply not aware of the power of talking to their babies and young children.

The Thirty Million Words (TMW) Initiative seeks to inform parents and help them close this gap.  They have developed a TMW curriculum  which uses education and technology to give parents the ability to use their words to grow their babies’ brains. This curriculum breaks down the science of brain development into easily understandable concepts and uses videos of parent child interaction to demonstrate the simple real life application of these concepts.  Parents also have access to a device which tracks the weekly number of words a child hears, which gives them the ability to monitor their progress and track their personal goals. This curriculum has been introduced to control groups of parents on Chicago’s South Side with very positive results, and successful trials have been conducted with groups of caregivers as well. TMW is planning a community-based rollout and a citywide initiative as their next steps, but hope to launch this curriculum nationwide as soon as possible.

In her master class Dr. Suskind suggested three simple things that every parent should do to ensure that his or her baby is hearing as many words as possible:

Tune in:  take the time to interact with your baby away from all distractions and devices.  (All you parents and caregivers, put those phones away while you are pushing those strollers!  This is a great time to talk with the baby about the world around you! That call/text/email can wait!)

Talk more:  Make a concerted effort to talk to your baby about anything and everything.  There is so much of the world for him to see, hear and understand. You can help him filter and absorb more of it by talking to him about what you both are doing and seeing.

Take turns:  Talk, but then listen to your baby’s response.  Babies learn to communicate well before they master language, and it is important to interact  or “converse”with your baby, not just give them commands.

Simple things that can give all of our children a head start in life. Pass them on to all the parents of young children you know.