SchoolFamily Voices

Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.

The Importance of Conversation With Young Kids

Have you heard of the 30-million word gap for children?

Psychologists Betty Hart of the University of Kansas and Todd Risley of the University of Alaska did a study of oral language. They observed 42 diverse families over a period of 2 1/2 years. They analyzed a child’s rate of language acquisition and parent’s communication style within three socioeconomic groups.

Their research discovered that by age 4, a child from a strong language environment would have experienced 45 million words. The study went on to show that a child from a minimal language environment would have experienced only 13 million words. (Hart & Risley, American Educator, 2003)

I found this to be so fascinating. As a 1st grade teacher, I’ve been a witness to the subtle, yet powerful knowledge of words and their usage. I’ve seen, firsthand, how good vocabulary is a true indicator of good reading comprehension.

So strive to have those rich conversations with your young children. Don’t be fearful of using “SAT words” right from the start. Even though a one-word answer might satisfy a question, take the time to explain and engage your child in a meaningful dialogue.

By doing so, you’ll help your child increase their vocabulary and reading skills in “millions” of ways!


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