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    Read to Me, ... Please!

    Find the latest news on early reading, on success statistics, on development, on scheduling time with your little ones. Lessons learned and best practices to share for a common goal of lifelong readers, early development, higher test scores & improved schools.
    Also contribute lastest news to this section.

    Reading aloud to kids helps those with development problems, Trelease. "Reading aloud helps make smart kids."

    "Stories and story telling are like reading aloud - our kids love them". "I want my kids to read early, before Kindergarten, so they will be well prepared for elementary school & will carry on through their education." "Early reading is the stepping stone to higher degreed professionals".

    For toddlers: Literally, words to the wiser

    WILLIAM RASPBERRY; The Washington Post

    WASHINGTON - saying he thought it might rain. I had no idea how right I was.

    I've just finished a book called "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children," and I am confirmed of something I'd reluctantly come to believe: That it is beyond unrealistic to expect schools to fix children who enter school - even preschool - already behind.

    Here's what the authors, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, found:

    ~UVerbal stimulation (roughly, the number of words a young child hears at home) may be the most important predictor of the child's future academic, economic and social success.

    ~UThe difference in the amount of verbal stimulation received by children of poor families and those of the middle class is so huge as to be essentially unbridgeable.

    Theirs is no offhand conclusion. "Differences" is based on a prodigious amount of work over an extended period of time. What the researchers did, in essence, was to record for one hour each month, for two and a half years, every language interaction between 42 children and their parents.

    Even when they were done, they didn't know what they had. It took six years of transcribing, encoding and computing before they could analyze their results (almost as long as it took me to discover their 1995 book).

    Here is a small nugget of good news: "We found we could easily increase the size of the children's vocabularies by teaching them new words."

    Now the dismaying news: "We could not accelerate the rate of vocabulary growth so that it would continue beyond direct teaching; we could not change the developmental trajectory." At every socioeconomic level of the families and at every age of the children (beginning before the children learned to talk), the amount of verbal interaction favored children of middle-class families.

    For example, the 11-to-18-month-old children of professionals (mostly university professors in the study) heard 642 utterances during a typical hour, with 482 of these addressed to the children themselves. Children of welfare parents heard, on average, 394 utterances per hour, with only 197 directly addressed to them.

    Similar differences were noted in texture of the language the children heard: more nouns and modifiers among the middle class.

    And this: The children of professional parents heard more words of encouragement (and fewer imperatives and prohibitions) than the children of working-class families. The working-class children, in turn, heard more encouragement than the children of welfare families.

    So great was the difference that when the authors considered how to intervene to close the gap, they concluded:

    "To keep the language experience of welfare children equal to that of working-class children, the welfare children would need to receive 63,000 words per week of additional language experience. ... Just to provide an average welfare child with an amount of weekly language experience equal to that of an average working-class child would require 41 hours per week of out-of-home experience as rich in words addressed to the child as that in an average professional home."

    The short response is: It's not going to happen. I say this knowing about the Milwaukee Project, a full-day early intervention program for infants whose mothers registered at 75 or below on IQ tests. The children in the Milwaukee Project tested at the national average by age 8.

    As encouraging as that sounds, it's hard to imagine a program big enough to close the gap that Hart and Risely describe. We're talking about poor families, not necessarily feeble-minded ones.

    And we're talking about parents whose parenting styles, as well as language patterns, are passed along from one generation to the next. Even full-day, high-quality child care couldn't begin to close that gap.

    What might? It occurs to me that the most reasonable place to try to break the cycle is with one generation of parents.

    Poor parents love their children and want them to be happy and successful. The problem is, they may not know how to make it happen. It may be easier to teach the parents some of the necessary "tricks" than to rescue children who've already fallen behind.

    I believe it so strongly, I've decided to invest time and personal resources to see how much meaningful difference can be accomplished in my small Mississippi home town.

    I'll let you know how it goes.

    William Raspberry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning social issues columnist for The Washington Post. Write to him at willrasp@washpost.com. (Published 12:01AM, August 25th, 2003)

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