Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Poverty and preschool vocabulary

We all know that rich kids enter preschool and kindergarten with bigger vocabularies than poor kids, and this both predicts and influences a number of adult outcomes, but I didn't know the difference was so big. My new favorite blog is Child's Play, and the particular post I'm thinking of is Don't Bite: Does Self Control Determine Class. This is one of a series of posts riffing off the experiment where a kid gets one M&M or marshmallow now or two when the lady comes back into the room, and we watch the kids fidget. The type of people who read this blog would be very interested in the whole series.

One detail struck me:
“(c)hildren from welfare families hear on the order of thousands fewer words per day than children from professional families, leading to what Hart and Risley term a “meaningful difference” over time. While it is difficult to quantify the impact this impoverished input has on learning, many researchers believe the effect to be massive. Just to give you an idea – by the age of three, children from professional families actually have larger recorded vocabularies than the parents of the welfare families.”
Thousands more words a day heard. I'm assuming this means total words, not different words. But even so, how could this be? I see two obvious guesses: Maybe poor kids spend more time with no or fewer adults around than rich kids, or maybe poor parents talk to each other less.

Oh, crap. It's time to get ready for work, and I'm not finished with this. I wanted to talk about implications for preschool curriculum and public policy. Well, you go read the series at Child's Play, and I'll get back to this. Or more likely, I'll move on to something else. Oh, shiny!

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