The key to smarter kids: talking to them the right way

After a piece that explores debate on child academic performance, Annie Murphy Paul concludes in the Sept 30 issue of The Brilliant Report:

“What [parents] need to do with their children is much simpler: talk.”

But not just any talk. Although well-known research by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley has shown that professional parents talk more to their children than less-affluent parents—a lot more, resulting in a 30 million “word gap” by the time children reach age three—more recent research is refining our sense of exactly what kinds of talk at home foster children’s success at school. For example, a study conducted by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health and published in the journalPediatrics found that two-way adult-child conversations were six times as potent in promoting language development as interludes in which the adult did all the talking.

Engaging in this reciprocal back-and-forth gives children a chance to try out language for themselves, and also gives them the sense that their thoughts and opinions matter.

This reciprocal back-and-forth, or “dialogic communication”, is at the core of the Bright Beginnings programs.