Read with your children.
Talk about what you read.
Relax and have fun.
That simple model for guiding parents to bring the rich content and language of books fully, yet gently, into children’s lives is our mantra at Unite for Literacy. That’s one HOW of optimizing children’s cognitive potentials for success in school and beyond. This Monday I heard a lovely talk focused upon a global WHY.
I’m currently attending the National Center for Families Learning conference in Detroit, Mich. Yesterday, colleagues from the University of Northern Colorado and I shared our various efforts to eliminate Book Deserts for children. The session went well with nearly half the attendees staying to chat afterward. With our commitment over, we scattered to various other sessions on two-generational learning of everything from literacy to employment skills.
The keynote speech on the first day of the conference focused on efforts by a group from the University of Chicago to address the now famous 30,000,000 word gap researchers found 20 years ago between the number of words children from advantaged homes hear before they enter school and the number heard by children growing up in less-advantaged families. While that research has been analyzed and criticized over the years, “30,000,000” has become an icon for encouraging all parents to talk with their children. Nobody can argue against that.
The founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative at the University of Chicago, Dr. Dana Suskind, came into this conversation in her role as director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implantation Program there. In her talk, Dr. Suskind brought the science of what she called the brain building power of language to a rapt audience of educators from the U.S., Canada and beyond. Every word infants, toddlers, preschoolers and primary children hear impact the structure and function of their brains, building a physiological foundation for thinking and learning.
The presenter used video of actual parents and their tiny babies, well-peppered with illustrations of her group’s analysis of the importance of talking with children from the first moments after birth. She fully outlined the parent education program the project has been designing, researching and implementing to guide new parents toward doing what is best for their preschool-age children. This critical education is a job that naturally falls most heavily onto the shoulders of parents who already had lives filled with plenty to do before their babies arrived.
For me, the most important gem in the presentation was Suskind’s clear commitment to full and comprehensive implementation of this most-important parent education curriculum for the entire population of the world.
She gave me pause as she spent time discussing how so many potentially fabulous efforts to benefit the world dry up and disappear due to developers effectively dropping the precious ball they have diligently created before they cross the goal line of getting the word out, with fidelity, to the rest of the world. Her commitment to eventually creating a technology-based, universally accessible set of lessons to guide new and expectant parents to fully understand the WHY and the HOW of maximizing their children’s potential brain growth and subsequent success in school and in life was unmistakable.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States will be the earliest beneficiaries of this project’s findings. However, presuming she can maintain the Thirty Million Word Initiative’s commitment to fidelity and clarity, over time and under the thoughtful guidance of dedicated professionals like Dr. Suskind and her group, these internet-based lessons will be shaped to speak clear wisdom and offer gentle guidance to parents in every culture and language community.