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Parents need to read/talk to their children

Children's ability to learn language throughout their youth is directly related to how much language stimulation they receive before they are 5.

Photo of Jeff Benson
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According to research on the language gap between rich and poor children in the US, infants whose parents talk to them develop a larger vocabulary and learn language much quicker than infants who are not read to. The effects can last through the formative education years, meaning that many students are starting school with lower cognitive abilities than their peers:

"Where do such early differences among children come from? One critical factor is that parents differ in the amount of language stimulation they provide to their infants. Several studies show that parents who talk more with their children in an engaging and supportive way have kids who are more likely to develop their full intellectual potential than kids who hear very little child-directed speech."

In my experience in Uganda, I've seen young children under 5 who are less verbal than their American counterparts (for better or worse). In the US, in general, even parents without a lot to say have several ways of providing language stimulation for their children: children's books are a staple of growing up, as is Sesame Street, along with movies and iPad games. These things are not easily accessible in East Africa. Rural parents in Uganda, for instance, have almost no access to printed books—whether through a bookstore, library or school. Nor does everyone see the need; early childhood development is not a talked-about concept for most rural East Africans.

What would happen if parents could buy or borrow inexpensive, easy-to-read children's books? Furthermore, what sort of  adult literacy campaign might actually lead to increased language stimulation for children?


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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great provocations, Jeff. And we thought you might want to jump in on conversations here:

Photo of Jeff Benson

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, Meena. Cheers.