The 30 Million Word Gap

8 11 2013

I’m lucky. Or as a good friend of mine who doesn’t believe in the word “luck” would say — I’m blessed.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget this is the case, but whenever I do, I’m reminded in the most revealing ways just how much this is so. I’m healthy; I’m alive; I have all my senses (although not always common sense); I have a crazy, beautifully dysfunctional family that loves me dearly and friends who mean the world to me; and I have a great job, but also I have the drive/ambition to continue setting my goals higher in my career.

But that’s not the only reason I’m lucky. I’m also lucky because I grew up in a family that reads. I grew up with a house full of books and encyclopedias (when people still had physical copies of those) and around adults who regularly read the newspaper as they sipped from their mugs of coffee or cafe au lait in the morning.

I’m lucky because I was raised by parents who fostered my love of reading and writing and showed me and my siblings how much fun you could have with the written language. Clearly something clicked because I work in communications and spend most of my days writing and one of my sisters was an English major in college who now works as a Pre-school teacher and is very interested in what can be done to improve literacy within pre-4 year olds.

What’s interesting, though, is that before this week I probably wouldn’t have listed the literacy part of my life as one of my blessings. Mostly because it’s something that I kind of took for granted. I realized that not everyone grew up like I did, but I didn’t fully understand that having books in our home, and having parents who read all the time and encouraged us to do so greatly impacted my way of life.

I found out, however, when I attended my first meeting this week for a group that I’ve committed to volunteering with for at least the next year. This organization places volunteers at specific locations once a month to read to little kids, ranging in ages 4 to 12. At the meeting, we learned what would be expected of us as volunteers, how the reading sessions normally go, etc… but what impacted me the most was the section on why we do what we do.

In that section, the program manager cited a study that found that by age 3, a child from a lower income family will likely have experienced 30 million less words than that of a child from a higher income family.

If your mouth just dropped, you are not alone. I was floored. The guy sitting next to me who happened to be the only other Black person in the room was floored. We both looked at each other with one of those “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks. But as the program manager began to explain some of the reasons for the gap that were found in the study, I sadly could see how it could be true.

After leaving the meeting, I texted my sister about the study because clearly it’s right up her alley with her interest in early childhood literacy. I was hoping she was going to complain about the bias of the study and say that she doesn’t see that gap with her students, but she did no such thing. In fact, she all but declared it completely accurate without ever having read it yet. Her most distressing comment to me about it? That when she asks the kids open ended questions like they’re trained to do to push their critical thinking and language skills, you can clearly tell that the lower income children know what they want to say but don’t have the language to convey their thoughts, but that the higher income students could hold adult conversations with you.

How does that not just break your heart? It certainly broke mine, but more importantly, it made me want to make sure more people knew about this problem.

So please, if you have a moment, take some time to read the following links and learn more about the 30 million word gap… and then if you have even more time, do what you can to read to a child in your life as much as possible. I know I plan to, even more so than I already do now.

1) The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3 by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley

2) The 30 Million Word Gap

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4 responses

8 11 2013
29tolife

This is crazy. 30 million! I too was very fortunate to be constantly encouraged to read and write. I stayed in the library as a kid taking out the max amount of books and returning them within a week. I challenged myself to read every babysitter’s club book in one summer, and my parents already knew when that Troll Book club or scholastic book brochure came out, they were going to have to come off that cash and order me at least two books.
When I was in third grade, I got to get out of class to read to the kindergarteners. I felt pretty special. And at that point I knew I had some advantages. That like you, have served me well throughout my life. Wow.

The organization you are involved in sounds awesome! It saddens me to hear about all of these gaps that children, especially in lower incomes face. It’s just not fair at all. At all.

8 11 2013
dbaham

It’s so crazy, right?! I mean, it just broke my heart to read those reports and hear my sister talk about the clear disadvantages she sees in her program. It’s absolutely not fair.

And yessss!! I did all those too. You’re bringing me back to my childhood now lol Don’t get me started on the Book IT! program. That was my ish! And whenever we got that scholastic book brochure — it was like Christmas in my house. We would get sooo excited! (Clearly my parents raised a bunch of nerds who didn’t know they were nerds hahaha)

The question is how do we bring that energy into every household? It’s too easy to just hold parents accountable. I mean, they are — but there has to be a broader solution approach to the issue, right? A friend of mine suggested creating a real change in the mentality of our nation to where we shift the focus to real, quality affordable pre-school care for all kids, but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to start something like that.

Oh yea, it’s called the Reading Connection, and they seem pretty freakin’ awesome. I actually found them after reading your post about how you found your mentee — so thank you for that! I was looking to get involved in something more hands on after stepping down from the board of this local non-profit this summer, and I’m hoping this will be a mutually fulfilling relationship between me and the kids.

8 11 2013
29tolife

Book it!!! What chu know about those pizza hut certificates?????

8 11 2013
dbaham

hahahahaha those pizza hut gift certificates are probably why I’m on a diet now LOL. I was forever in that joint, like “I read another book!!” hahaha

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