The recently published Rose Report into the primary curriculum draws praise from Vicky Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies College. She believes it highlights a problem educationists have been grappling with for years: 'word poverty'.
'Word poverty' refers to the huge deficit in some children’s language skills in comparison with other children. Why would this be? In a study conducted by Betty Hart and Todd Risley looking at parent-child interactions, it was found that:
'Professional mothers not only talked much more to their babies (1500 words per hour between nine and twelve months), but this increased systematically with the child’s age, levelling off by thirty months at around 2,500 words per hour. The middle-class parents spoke less overall, and their initial rate was lower and increased more modestly (1,000 to 1,500 words). The range for the welfare mothers was virtually nonexistent (600-750 words). (Quoted in Diane McGuinness’s fascinating and comprehensive book Growing a Reader from Birth)
In addition, the vocabulary used by professional mothers was 'richer' and the interactions were 'more positive'.
What can we glean from this? It’s simple. Children’s vocabulary development is closely related to the vocabulary they are exposed to in the early years (0 to three). Vicky Tuck, in arguing, how important the role of teachers is in fostering an 'appetite for reading' by the time children leave the primary school is only partly right. What seems to be crucial is the years before children get to school.
It's something of a cliché but what parents/carers need to do is read to their young children every day, talk to them a lot, sing songs to them – in short, immerse them in as rich and as wide a range of spoken language as possible right from off.