Quality early childhood education is critical, and we need to explore all options for expanding it. But researchers are increasingly convinced that the playing field becomes uneven well before preschool, when babies and toddlers are exposed to words at a strikingly different rate depending on their socio-economic class.
My friend Ann O’Leary is doing ground-breaking work to close the “word gap” through the initiative she directs, Too Small To Fail. Today’s New York Times describes Ann’s effort and those like it around the country. As the article explains, “Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor.” That’s a scary statistic.
Exposing children from low-income homes to more words at an early age will not eliminate poverty in this country, but it will provide them with greater opportunities to succeed when they are old enough for school. All children should start kindergarten ready to thrive in public school. The work Ann and her colleagues are doing gets us closer to that goal.