By Bonnie Betley
Best Beginnings-Homer will be celebrating The Week of the Young Child April 20th through April 27th. The week will be filled with fun activities honoring families with young children.
The Week of the Young Child is celebrated nationwide, and Homer is proud to show our support for young children and the important people in their lives. These activities are all designed with families in mind and are set in place to help promote the idea that early learning is very important in helping children succeed throughout life.
This year we are welcoming parents and caregivers of young children to “Words Count”, a new campaign from Best Beginnings that encourages parents to talk, sing, read, and play with their young children every day.
The centerpiece of Words Count is a 60-second video which you can view at www.bestbeginningsalaska.org under the heading “Why it Matters.” Be sure to share it with friends and family!
Why do words count? The more words children are exposed to in their first few years, the better they fare in school and in life. Right from birth, babies both initiate communication with their parents and respond — through crying, facial expressions, and arm waving, to name a few. Two-way interaction, what neuroscientists call “serve-and-return,” is critical to building neural connections in the baby brain. Talk, sing, read, and play with your child every day!
Currently, we are noticing a “30 million word gap” with some of our young children. It all began with the 1995 landmark study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley in their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children:
“In four years, an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words.”
More recently, Stanford University researchers have observed that these differences emerge as early as 18 months. The effects persist through the school years. The good news: if parents increase the quantity and quality of their verbal interactions, their babies benefit. Many organizations are tackling the issue and resources are developing all the time.
Abbe Hensley, Executive Director of Best Beginnings, states, “The word gap is important because oral language and vocabulary are intricately connected to reading comprehension. As Esther Quintero points out in her excellent post on the Shanker blog, vocabulary is a child’s entry to knowledge and the world of ideas. Words are how children learn to make sense of the world around them, the key that unlocks knowledge and the world of ideas.
Children exposed to fewer words in their first few years have a harder time when they start school. The word gap usually morphs into an achievement gap that expands over time.
You can’t close the word gap by hurling words at a child. TV doesn’t help. Neither does conversation between adults. Forget flash cards or vocabulary tests. What counts is the verbal interaction — talking with, singing with, and playing with. While it may be a few years before parent and child have an intellectual dialogue, it’s the back-and-forth, serve-and-return, that counts.
The interactions aren’t difficult. And there are some wonderful resources to guide parents in how to have the verbal interactions that will help their children grow and succeed. You can find some of them on our website www.bestbeginningsalaska.org.”
So read, play, sing, talk, laugh and dance with the children in your lives. But most of all cherish them.
Our Week of the Young child will include many great activities so keep an eye out for flyers. Contact Sprout at 235-6044 or Homer Public Health Center at 235-8857 for more information regarding activities. You can also visit our Best Beginnings Homer pages on Facebook or www.pop411.org or the www.SproutAlaska.org/calendar for a list of all events. Also, remember to check-out the Safe Kid’s Fair April 26th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Homer High School.
Bonnie Betley is the co-chair of Best Beginnings Homer
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