A recent article in Slate raises all sorts of questions about childhood language and cognitive development: Children’s language development: Talk and listen to them from birth.
Few people question the positive effects that reading to children has on their reading and language skills, cognitive development, and academic success. The amount parents read to a child has usually been quantified as the number of words a child hears by a certain age. The differences between groups of children boggles the mind: middle- and upper-middle-class kids have heard tens of millions more words by the time the enter school than lower-income kids. Tens of millions.
I am not surprised that reading to children is not enough—simply reading to them is too passive. It doesn’t give children a chance to participate, to use and perhaps misuse the words they are hearing, to use language to formulate their ideas. Just as children don’t learn to write well by reading. Certainly reading, and reading a lot, is important in developing writing skills, but it is not enough. Similarly, hearing words read aloud is important in developing language and cognitive skills, but it is not enough.
While I don’t think I shortchange either #1 or #2 in the conversation department, the essay in Slate has prompted me to be more aware of how I can give them more opportunities to participate in conversations and give them more chances to ask questions about what I am reading to them.