Research shows parents can help close the word gap in early childhood education

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Leaders from the U.S. Department of Education were in town Monday to discuss how children can learn more at a younger age. The conference, which took place at the Kauffman Foundation, was focused on closing the word gap.

Research shows that children in poor families hear about 30 million fewer words by the time they turn three, than similar kids from more well-to-do households. And that word gap often results in an achievement gap for those kids, both in school and throughout their lives.

Universal preschool wouldn't solve this problem because it doesn't start soon enough. The goal is to educate parents to start talking to and teaching their kids through interaction and play as soon as they are born.

Parents who have received training are convinced that it does make a difference in their kids' lives.

"This morning it's Monday, my child was crying, she did not want to get up. She didn't want to go to school," said Deidre Anderson of St. Mark's Child & Family Development Center. "And I said ok, how am I going to respond to this? With a little bit of patience, that's what I teach my parents, that's what I need to do myself. So I sat down and took a few extra moments to allow her to wake up rather than yell 'Get up! Get on up, it's time for school.'"

Researchers at Stanford University say an intellectual processing gap can be detected as early as 18 months old.

Educators hope to reach out to more parents and teach them how to talk to their children in new ways. For example, bath time, with colors and toys and shapes of bubbles to describe, can be important daily teachable time.

"What we're trying to do is get everybody to start immediately at birth. Frankly, prenatal would be even better," said Mayor Sly James. "Start filling that gap and understand the absolute importance of talking to your child. Just having a conversation, 'What happened today? Oh look at that. Isn't that neat?' Reading to your child. 'There's a stop sign that says ‘stop.’ That's mustard in there, M-U-S-T-(A)-R-D."

Research shows overhearing a cell phone conversation or listening to television just isn't enough to develop a child's brain. Parents need to be aware of what their children are looking at, and talk or question it in a way has some back and forth interaction between parent and child.

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