I’m going to tackle a subject that is impossible to explain without calling attention to socioeconomic status and education levels in families. What I am going to share with you is some research done in the 1960’s by scientists trying to understand why the educational gains made in Head Start programs are lost, more often than not, by the time children reach third grade. What I hope that you,–especially new mothers, mothers-to-be, and childcare professionals,–take away from this discussion is that you have the power and opportunity to hugely impact your child’s literacy development. In improving literacy, you will greatly improve your child’s school and life success because so much depends on being able to read and write well.
I’d like to tell you about a large longitudinal study of mothers with their 18-month-old children. The mothers’ interactions with their children were documented. Some of the behaviors that were documented included how many words the mother used in speaking to her child, whether the tone of the interaction was engaging or disciplining the child, what the mother did to expand the child’s language, and what the mother did to encourage continued communication as opposed to what she did to close the discussion. Many more behaviors of the mothers in the study were tabulated to see if there was a common thread to answer the question, “Why do some children learn to read easily and others have more trouble?”
Along with these observations, researchers collected additional information about the family including–how many children, age of mother, whether the family had two parents or a single parent, level of education of the mother, income level of the family, and whether the mother worked outside of the home.
A longitudinal study is one that occurs over many years. In this study, the mothers were again called back for an observation at around the child’s third birthday, the mothers’ communication styles were again observed. The children were observed and tested once they were beginning to read and again later in about third grade. The factors that predicted the child’s level of success in learning to read and continued success in school were very closely linked to the mother’s educational level and socio-economic status. No other factors came close.
I apologize for ending today’s column on this discouraging note, but I promise I will share more next week of other correlations that the researchers learned that can make a huge difference for your child.
Most of the birds have gone away
On this cold dark winter day.
Here is one bird that I can see
Looking for something good to eat.
Little bird, I’ll feed you
Til the cold winter is through
And all of your friends come back to play
On a warm and bright spring day.
(tune: Up on the Housetop)