First Things First: Close that million-word gap by reading to your children

First Things First: Close that million-word gap by reading to your children

April 28th, 2019 by Julie Baumgardner in Life Entertainment
Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

While you might be reading bedtime stories to help your child settle before lights out, you may be doing much more than just a nightly ritual.

A new study released by Ohio State University shows that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to.

Jessica Logan and her team launched into this research after findings from an earlier study indicated that one-fourth of children are never read to and another quarter were only read to once or twice a week.

In collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Logan and her colleagues determined the average number of words in board books and picture books, and then calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. The findings were stunning.

By the time children are 5 years old, if they have:

* Never been read to, they know 4,662 words.

* Been read to one or two times per week, word count increases to 63,570.

* Been read to three to five times per week, their vocabulary increases to 169,520 words.

* Been read to daily, their vocabulary expands to 296,660 words.

* Been read five books a day, they know upwards of 1,483,300 words.

"This million-word gap could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development," says Logan.

Logan's findings revealed that children who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are also more likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.

Logan contends that being read to is different from everyday communication because books expose children to words that are much more complex and difficult than what they hear by just talking to their parents and others in the home.

For example, reading a book about animals, where they live and their natural habitat, will introduce words and concepts that are not likely to come up in everyday conversations.

"The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read," Logan says. "Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids."

If reading hasn't been a priority in your home, there is no better time to get started than the present. Take your children to the library for story hour, and get a library card if you don't already have one so you can take some books home with you. Garage sales or used bookstores are a great place to find gently used books. You might even have some friends who have been holding onto books that could use a new home or who would be willing to trade books back and forth.

Another great resource is Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school (age 5), no matter their family's income. For more information on how to register your child to receive a new book each month, visit https://imaginationlibrary.com/.

Make reading an exciting time to connect with your child. When you read, you can make it interesting by changing your voice for the different characters or animals, letting your child turn the pages, pointing to the different things on the page as you read about them or asking them to find the thing you are reading about on the page.

Placing your finger under the words as you read them will help your child learn that we read left to right and will help them visually see the word you are saying.

Don't have lots of books to choose from? No worries. Almost any parent with grown children can probably still recite to you word-for-word certain books that their child asked them to read again and again and again.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.


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