30 Million Words

Recently, I caught part of an interview Nora Young did with Dr. Jill Gillkerson, on the CBC radio program Spark.  The interview was about a vest that children up to the age of three can wear that records and measures the types of conversations parents and young children are having throughout the day.  The data is then given to parents to motivate them to increase interactive talk with their babies and toddlers.  As Dr. Gilkerson pointed out in the interview, “Research has shown that talk in early childhood, in the window from zero to three, is the single most important factor that drives both brain development and kindergarten readiness.”

The interview related much of the same information that Dr. Dana Suskind wrote in her book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.  It seems that research is repeatedly showing that the best thing parents can do for their child’s future success is talk to him or her.  Personal evidence from spending my days with kindergarten students supports the thesis, and proves that the unequal exposure to spoken words is often a deficit that’s difficult to overcome.

So, how do we get the word out to the young parents who need to hear it?  The people most in need of the message probably aren’t listening to documentaries on CBC, or reading a lot of nonfiction.

I’ve long thought that, in my province, it would be valuable for the education and health ministries to work together more closely.  Very few parents miss their child’s regular immunizations.  Is there a way to incorporate having a teacher on hand, working alongside the nurse, so that when parents have to wait the 15 minutes following the immunization, some parent education around talk and reading can be taking place?  Can parents go home with their updated immunization records, and two or three new songs and games to play with their toddler?  Could a new or gently used children’s book be a “treat” for each child who gets their needles?

Or, should parent education about talking with your child begin much sooner?  Eighteen years ago, my husband and I dutifully attended prenatal classes, as most people do.  We learned quite a lot about what to expect with labour and delivery, but had no idea how to bathe our daughter when we got home (I know, it’s embarrassing how ill equipped two professional people were to care for a baby!!).  Should a little more education, including information about the importance of talking to your baby, be given during these prenatal classes, so that parents are as well-equipped to deal with the nurturing of babies after they go home as they are for the actual birth?

I haven’t met any parents who don’t want what’s best for their child.  We all need guidance and encouragement when we’re raising children.  Having more parent education about the importance of interactive talk with babies and toddlers is an important area we need to focus on in order to maximize brain development, and maximizing human potential.