Good Parenting On Steroids: Part 4. on What Worked For Ian

Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, a team of researchers led by two Kansas psychologists, Betty Hart and Todd Risley, conducted intensive studies of the home life of children in the 1990s. Over two and a half years, they visited the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. They recorded every word that child’s primary caregiver said to their child during weekly, one-hour sessions.

After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones. 

Their landmark study published in 1995 found that a middle class child was exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in wealthier families were exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones. This “word gap” study was used to explain academic disparities between poor and rich kids, and a huge impact on public policy.

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