As the mom of 5 sons, I’ve had a close-up view of a range of how children develop. Like any other parent, I’ve been amazed by how much babies learn and grow, from the time they’re born through their school years and beyond. Teachers get them a few hours a day from the age of 4, but the biggest impact on children’s vocabulary and success in school is from their parents.
Studies show that the average child in poverty hears half as many words (616) per hour as a child from a working class family (1251), and less than a third as many a a child in from an upper income family (2153).
President Obama said in his Call to Action on early education and the word gap, “We know that right now during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. By giving more of our kids access to high-quality pre-school and other early learning programs, and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed, we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of, and a life that will make us all better off.”
Home visiting programs like Healthy Families Prince George’s make a critical difference in the lives of the families it serves. Parents learn how to talk to their babies, read to them and play with them. They also learn other positive parenting skills, which leads to decreased child abuse. Families who participate improve their family’s economic self sufficiency. This is a completely voluntary program that has a greater demand than the organization can meet.
Children in home visiting programs enter school ready to learn at a much higher rate than their peers who don’t get this support. Their parents have learned the importance of talking to them, and limiting screen time.
If we can expand home visiting with trained, vetted volunteers we can dramatically increase the number of words children have in their vocabularies before they enter preschool, and give them the foundation for life long success.