NPR: Closing The Achievement Gap With Baby Talk

In the mid-1960s, Betty Hart was a graduate student in child development working at a preschool in Kansas City, Kan. The preschool was for poor kids — really poor kids. Many came from troubled housing projects nearby.

But Hart was determined not to see their limitations, only their potential: Hart’s job was to teach these underprivileged kids how to speak like the children of her professors at the University of Kansas.

For years, she and university professor Todd Risley worked tirelessly toward this goal, doing everything they could think of to expand the vocabularies of these 4-year-olds. The idea was that if the kids could speak with the fluency of their wealthier peers across town, they might go on to similar academic achievements.

[…]

And so, starting in 1983 every month for three years, trained observers with recorders were sent to the homes of the families who had agreed to participate. There, they cataloged every utterance, endless hours of seemingly inconsequential babble.

Hart says it took close to 10 years to transcribe these tapes so they could be fed into a computer for analysis. But the results were worth it. Hart and Risley discovered many fascinating things about the differences between the way rich and poor families on average speak to their children.

But in the end, the finding that most struck people, Hart says, was not about the quality of the speech — how often rich versus poor parents asked questions or positively affirmed their children — but about the quantity.

According to their research, the average child in a welfare home heard about 600 words an hour while a child in a professional home heard 2,100.

The work that was done for this research is amazing.   NPR did a great job with this article.  This is important information for Early Childhood Educators and parents!