CLEVELAND - The topic could be ruffled pink socks or brown barking doggies. You could chat about cracks in the sidewalk or start a conversation about noisy airplanes overhead.
It doesn’t matter what you talk about with your baby, toddler or preschooler. What matters is that you’re constantly exposing them to a flood of words, experts say.
And that’s why “Let’s Go Viral About Building Our Children’s Vocabulary” is the title of the next event to be held as part of Slavic Village Reads, an educational initiative sponsored by Third Federal.
WKYC is a partner in this year-long effort to celebrate literacy in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood and encourage families to establish regular reading rituals.
Executive Director Robert Paponetti of The Literacy Cooperative and Lynn Foran of Reach Out and Read’s Cleveland office will speak to parents and caregivers of preschoolers on Thursday at Villa Head Start. Their topic will be the power of parent talk.
Words are like food to young brains, says Paponetti. “When a baby is born, every other vital organ is fully developed with the exception of the brain. How that brain grows is very dependent on their environment,” he explains.
“When the baby is in a home with a rich language environment, those neurons grow strong. But the brain is very efficient – it will shut down when it’s not getting the stimulation,” says Paponetti. “When it’s not hearing a lot of words, those neurons start to close.”
The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland recently hosted a talk by Dr. Dana Suskind, founder of The Thirty Million Words Initiative, where she explained that by the time they are age 3, children from lower socioeconomic environments hear 30 million fewer words than more affluent children. That deficit significantly impacts the chance of the low-income child’s success in school.
Her research shows that it is crucial to create language-rich environments in low-income homes, and that’s the reason that Paponetti says he is now taking her message directly to parents, at events like the one on Thursday.
This doesn’t mean you have to teach your preschooler to toss around words like “alacrity” and “obsequious.” It just means that parents need to keep up a constant patter with their little ones, saying things like “I’m about to change your diaper now. And then I’m going to put on your green socks.”
It's also a great idea for parents to encourage interactive chatter about a book, by saying things like "Why is the bunny doing that?" or "Which boy has on the red shoes?"
Many parents express surprise when Paponetti explains that there is a payoff to talking constantly to your child, he says. “I heard many parents saying, 'I just didn’t know (that) so many of the things I do everyday could be learning opportunities for my child.'”
On Thursday, Head Start parents will be encouraged to take pictures while reading and talking with their children, and then pull out their cell phones and spread the message about closing the 30 million word gap.
Thursday's event is hosted by the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, with partners The Literacy Cooperative, Reach Out and Read, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland Police Department, and Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank.
It’s one of the monthly literacy activities taking place in Slavic Village, which has been designated the nation’s first Little Free Library Neighborhood. Sponsored by Third Federal, the initiative is a collaborative effort that is supported by WKYC, MyCom/P-16 and Slavic Village Development.
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