Early Engagement Enhances Child’s Success In School

I’m interested in how kids who come from poverty can break the cycle and get ahead for future generations. I’ve assumed the answer is better education.

A podcast, Freakanomics, hosted a presentation that spoke to the impact of early childhood education on a child’s ultimate success. If you have the chance and have any influence on young kids, you will want to listen to this podcast.

According to this podcast, parents make a great difference in the development of a student’s ability to succeed in school. A doctor in Chicago, Dana Susskind, has studied this development. She says the first three years of life have a tremendous impact on how the brain is primed to learn for the rest of your life.  Parents impact that brain development by interacting with kids. Reading with them. Counting with them. Talking with them. Modeling the right behavior with them.

If you’re like me, you don’t know quite what to do with a baby. I can remember thinking how much I wanted my kids to get older so I could talk with them and interact more.

Turns out that interaction with kids from the day of their birth makes a huge difference. Susskind says the brain comes out largely undeveloped. 80-85% of the brain is built during the first three years of life. It is built by language.

A study done in the 1960s found that children of poverty heard an average 30 million fewer words than children in more affluent families.

Consequently,  the brains that hear fewer words will be a different machine than the brains that heard more words. The one that hears more words is better suited for  learning and success for schools.

It’s hard to play “catch up” if those first three years are short changed on the language front. If you don’t hear many words early, you become slower at processing what you hear. If it takes you longer to process the words you hear, it cuts in on your learning time for new words.

Susskind says parents can make the best of early childhood by employing the “3 T’s” with their babies:

  • Tune in – notice what your child is interested in and foster more communication by focusing on their interests. It creates more engagement.
  • Talk More – purposefully converse with the child, even before they can speak. Don’t assume that because they don’t talk, they aren’t learning. The more you talk early, the sooner they talk back. The more you talk, the more “expert” they become processing language. The more developed their processing skill, the better they learn. For life!
  • Take turns – establish conversational patterns with your child, even before they can speak. Notice what they notice. Comment on it. Acknowledge it.  Stay in conversation.

For every child to get what they need, purposeful language development in the home must take place.

Here’s another learning tip, screen time doesn’t help. Parking a child in front of television with words coming her way doesn’t fill the 30 million word gap. Turns out, the way words matter most is when there is interaction and response. Screens don’t nod. They don’t verify understanding. They don’t give feedback.

So, it’s something to think about. As kids come your way that you strive to influence for the long term, you will do well to have a strategy.

Tune in.

Talk more.

Take turns.