Have you noticed that more and more people talk about how important talking with infants and toddlers is?

In some states such as California this message is everywhere – on TV, on the radio, on bill boards, kids’ T-shirts, diapers and more. Why? To raise awareness that the conversations parents have with their children in the first years help them build the skills they need to do well later on.

Have you heard about the 30-million-word gap?

Researchers Hart & Risely found in 1995 (!) that children from low-income families are getting fewer conversations in their homes and that by age 4 this steady word deficiency has reached 30-million words. Not surprisingly, they found that such enormous gaps had dire consequences for young children: Fewer words heard in the first three years lead to fewer words learnt which led to lower achievements in school, and likely to disadvantages in later life as well.

When do children fall behind in their language skills?

  1. At age 3 when they now the basics and can speak in sentences
  2. At age 2 when they combine words to simple sentences
  3. Younger than age 2

New research by Dr. Fernald and colleagues from Stanford University shows that some children already fall behind others at the age of 18 months! And, by their second birthday they are already 6 months behind in understanding and saying words compared to their peers who have had more language-rich interactions up to this point. What surprised me – was not the gap per se– but a gap this big at this young age!

This research is no longer science trivia but affects children’s and parents’ lives and ultimately also the nation’s economy because early word gaps translate into later achievement gaps. Neuroscientists now find that more, richer language experiences are visible in the developing brain and likely make it a more powerful, efficient ‘muscle’ which makes talking and engaging with infants and toddlers a health issue.

Public awareness on the importance of talking, singing, reading is growing


Words are the young child’s biggest asset to do well early on and later – socially, emotionally and academically. It’s necessary to raise parents’ and educators’ awareness just how much their conversations help infants and toddlers to learn words that give them the skills to get off to a good start. That is why nation-wide campaigns like Too Small to Fail, Vroom and The 30 Million Word Gap are now putting a spotlight on the importance of talking, reading and singing with infants and toddlers. They provide excellent resources and coaching for parents to talk and engage more with infants and toddlers. Although these initiatives are especially aimed at low-income families and their children who are more prone to fewer conversations and early word gaps, their information is useful for anyone who cares about young children and their learning. My own ‘Raising a Talker’ book and website also have the same goal: To provide information and resources for parents and educators to help build a strong foundation for language and learning for young children so they can do well later.

Free Resources

Apps such as Text4baby and Vroom and Sesame Street videos give parents concrete tips and activities on how to amp up their conversations while going about their day with their infants. The apps are free and some are available in English and in Spanish. You can download the Vroom app here. It sends you a daily message on how to spark a conversation in every day routines. You can download Text4baby  in order to get free health, safety and learning tips for babies until their first birthday. There are Sesame Street videos at which give you ideas on play activities to support language learning.

My own website has a free Online Learning Center. You can find research-based communication tips, videos from Experts on child and language development, developmental milestones, book suggestions for infants, toddlers, and parents/caregivers, basics about language learning, brain development, and more. Soon, there’ll also be activities for infants and toddlers.

Read more about the importance of talking and engaging with infants and toddlers as a public health issue in “Word Health: Addressing the Word Gap as a Public Health Crisis”.

Since strong language skills are important for a child’s future development, should pediatricians at baby well-visits talk more about why talking, reading and singing from early on is so crucial?

Do you have a favorite book you and your child like to read together, or a song you like to sing over and over?

Share your experiences with other parents and young children by submitting pictures, videos or stories on Parent Share.

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Looking for a resource to more closely tune in to your child and foster learning all around as you build a strong foundation together, check out my new book: Raising A Talker: Easy Activities for Birth to Age 3.

Click here to find out more about it and read excerpts.

More information – Gryphon House