What Does “Word Gap” Mean to You?

The headline speaker for NEKLS Innovation Day, April 30 in Topeka, was Garry Golden, an academically trained Futurist.  He  talked about the future of libraries and ways we can better serve our communities. What we found most interesting had nothing to do with keeping up with technology. He told us about research at Rice University with families with young children.  The study involved families from different socio-economic status; high-income, middle, low, and families who were on welfare. You can read about the research on the link above. Basically what they found is that children in welfare families heard an average of 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Over the time of birth to a child’s 4th birthday, the “word gap” that children hear and experience is roughly 30 MILLION WORDS. The significance is not only that children in poverty heard over a third fewer words than their high income counterparts, they studied the kind of words, words of encouragement or discouragement. The children who heard more encouragement were ahead developmentally not only at age three or four but a later study, following some of the same families, shows that success followed children through ages 9 and 10.  {information taken from Rice University study site}

Community leaders in Providence, R.I. were so struck by the results of the study that they  “distributed small recording devices” essentially word pedometers” that tuck into the vest of a child’s clothing. These will automatically record and calculate the number of words spoken and the number of times a parent and child quickly ask and answer each other’s questions.” {copied from NPR.com/closing the word gap} The NYTimes also has an article about the effort in Providence also.

How does all this tie in with our Library? Over a year ago we started our 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, encouraging  parents and families of young children to read, read, read to their babies and toddlers. We can now point to this study to confirm our goals to have children not only learn to love books, but to stimulate their growing minds with word, color, rhythm of the spoken word and more.

When we heard just a little about this study at the library conference, we felt the results validated what we set out to accomplish with our pre-school reading program. We’ve shared 3 articles here for you to read, you can find many more if you search “word gap” online. We hope that parents, grandparents, care-givers, and anyone who works with children will take time to learn more about this “word gap” and will also make reading and talking to children a daily priority. We invite you to stop by the library and enroll your children in our reading program.