At Boogie Mites, we are passionate about using active music making to close the attainment gap – the gap in educational achievement and life chances between children from higher and lower income families. Language development in early childhood is a key early indicator of this attainment gap. Now, in an article entitled ‘The importance of early language development’ (Schools Week), Tammy Elward, Director of The Darby Research School, explains the “30 million word gap” and the impact this has on children’s life chances.
THE TALKATIVE PARENT
Tammy Elward points out that it would “seem that early childhood language development is critically dependent on the interactions with caregivers at all stages, including pre-verbal.” She goes on to explain that a child with “talkative” parents hears 45 million words spoken to them during their first four years, while a child with “taciturn” parents hears 13 million words, resulting in a cumulative 30-million-word gap after four years.” Hart and Risley
THE MICHAEL EFFECT
The 30-million-word gap is deeply significant given that vocabulary at five years old is identified as the best measure of whether children who experience social deprivation in early life are able to buck the trend and escape poverty in later adult life.
“Children who start school with more advanced oral language skills fare better in learning to read successfully.” Feinstein et al (2006)
And the benefits of good early language development don’t stop there. The Michael Effect describes how a child with advantageous early educational experiences is able to utilise new educational experiences more efficiently: “the more you know, the easier it is to learn.” Thus, the attainment gap keeps widening as children move through school.
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT & HEALTH AND WELLBEING
In addition to the negative impact of impeded early language development for later literacy skills and long term educational achievement, there is further evidence pointing to the potential problems for behaviour and mental health. This is well documented in the Better Communication Report.
“When we look at mental health and wellbeing, 40 per cent of seven-to-14-year-olds who were referred to child psychiatric services, and 60 per cent of young offenders, had a language impairment that had not previously been suspected.” Tammy Elward
Given this crucial role that early language development plays in shaping a child’s future, Ms Elward comments:
“We need to value how we explicitly teach, role-model and reinforce all levels of language acquisition and development.” Tammy Elward
For all of us working in the early years sector, this is a reminder – if we need one – of the importance of our work with children and their parents, to support children’s communication and language development.
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For the full article by Tammy Elward please visit the Schools Week blog
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