What You Need to Know

Talk with young children under 3 as much as possible. Even if your baby can't talk back, every new word and positive interaction helps your baby's future reading success.

30 Million Word Gap

During the first 18 months of life, children spend most of their time with their parents. These family interactions teach small children about the world around them. But just how important is it to talk with babies before they even understand what you are saying? Very!

According to experts, the number of words said to a child during the first 3 years of life really matters to the development of language skills.

One study wanted to know why children from low-income homes remain behind their high-income classmates in school. After observing families with different income backgrounds for more than 2 years, they found a big difference in the number of words spoken to children. During the first 4 years of life, children in low-income families were exposed to approximately 30 million fewer words than children in high-income families.

Children in professional families also heard more positive statements ("That's a beautiful picture of a dog." and "Thank you for drawing on this piece of paper.") and fewer negative statements ("Don't do that.") than children in working class or low-income families. Negative statements tend to contain fewer words, and less new words that could help build a child's early language skills.

Why Words Matter

So why do fewer words matter for a child's language development? Experts found that the number of words a parent said to a child was strongly associated with the child's vocabulary at 3 years old. Also, when parents used different words and sentences in conversations, their children had higher rates of vocabulary growth, vocabulary use, and IQ scores at age 3. Talking with young children is critical to their development and well-being.

Negative statements and fewer words during the first 18 months hold children back from language processing and vocabulary skills. All families should know the importance of talking with their children and engaging in positive conversations. What can all parents do, no matter their occupation, income, education, or resources? Talk and read books with your children as much as possible! Every new word and positive statement is a chance to help build their vocabulary skills, and put them on the path to later reading success.

What You Can Do for Your Child

During your baby's "tummy time" lie down on the floor with him/her and describe out loud what you can see, smell, and hear from your baby's point of view.


Talk with your baby during familiar routines. For example, while bathing your baby talk about this routine as you are doing it. Describe the water and how the water feels on your baby's body. Talk with your baby about why and how you are cleaning his/her body.


Use finger movements when sharing nursery rhymes. Humpty Dumpty, Two Little Blackbirds, Jack Be Nimble, and Itsy Bitsy Spider are great nursery rhymes to do with hand movements, which will encourage your child to join in.


Sing nursery rhymes such as "1, 2, Buckle My Shoe" while buckling/tying your child's shoes.



Introduce new words during daily routines. While dressing, ask your child if the clothes are soft, rough, wrinkled, smooth, bright, dull, and so on.