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Talk to Your Child More and Who Knows…Harvard?

Talk to Your Child More and Who Knows…Harvard?

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - November 14th, 2016

That Crazy and Annoying Parent

Talk to Your Child More

The year Schuyler was born, a woman in my apartment building had a son named Aaron. This woman was crazy, in my opinion. We’ll call her Sandy because that was her name and I don’t live in the building anymore anyway.

Sandy used to have a loud, one-sided running dialog with Aaron about everything and anything they encountered. They would be walking down the hall to go up to their apartment and Sandy would say, “We’re walking down the hall, Aaron. Now we’re getting in the elevator.” The boy would squeak “Elevator.” “What floor do we live on?” Sandy would ask. “Seven,” he’d say. “That’s right. Can you press the seven button?” Aaron would press it. “Now we’re going up. The doors are opening now.” “Open,” a high voice would peep. They’d step out of the elevator and I’d hear, “The doors are closing now. Let’s walk left to our apartment. Which way is left? What letter is our apartment . . .”

I think we can all agree that Sandy was obnoxious. Me, I was too polite to inflict my parenting dialogues on neighbors like that. Sure, I talked to Schuyler while we were at home or out and about, but I rarely engaged her in front of strangers. When I did, I always used my spa voice. This was partly because I felt silly carrying on with a toddler who could hardly keep up her end of the conversation.

What I Observed

From the time Aaron was born, I’d see them at the grocery store. Sandy would be pushing Aaron in the shopping cart, jabbering away about everything they encountered. “Aaron, what is this orange fruit I’m holding? It’s called an orange. Feel how rough and bumpy the skin is. And these yellow bananas, are they fruits or vegetables? They’re fruits. We get our fruits and vegetables first and our frozen foods last because we don’t want the frozen foods to melt. What kind of cereal shall we buy today? Let’s not get Cocoa Puffs; they’re full of sugar. Let’s get Cheerios. They’re made from whole grain and whole grain is healthy.” She did this even before the kid could talk! Not only that, when all Aaron could do was babble, she’d respond with a question or comment to every “ga ga” and “goo goo” that passed his lips. When she was pushing him in his stroller outside, she would point out letters in signs, colors of cars, relative sizes of people, breeds of dogs, makes of cars, types of flowers—there was no end to Sandy’s commentary. The woman was ridiculous. I did not invite her to be in my new mothers’ group.

Talk To Your Child More!

Imagine my surprise when, a few years later, Aaron got into Hunter College Elementary and Schuyler didn’t. If you haven’t heard of Hunter College Elementary, it is the most prestigious gifted and talented program in Manhattan; getting in is like hitting the edu- cational lottery.

Sandy convinced me that talking to your child is one of the most important things you can do for his intellectual development. I’m not the only one who believes this. Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley analyzed more than 46,000 hours of speech between parents and children ages 7 months to 3 years old. Their research showed the average number of words a typical 4-year-old born into various family income levels had heard. In professional families, it was 45 million words; in working-class families, it was 26 million words; in families living in poverty, it was only 13 million words.

According to their research, children raised in a “low language” environment had an average IQ of 79, children raised in a “medium language” environment had an average IQ of 107, and children raised in an “enriched language” environment had an average IQ of 117—a 38-point difference between low- and high-language homes! The authors found that at age 9, academic success was correlated to the number of words they had heard when young. They concluded that the variation in children’s IQs, language abilities, and academic success were directly related to the number of words the parents spoke to their kids. They also found that parent talkativeness was more predictive of IQ than any other factor.

What I Learned

Here is my advice: Do what Sandy did and what Drs. Hart and Risley recommend. Talk to your child more about anything and everything. Surround him with language. If you work full-time, make sure that your caretaker is a talker; don’t entrust your child to a shrinking violet!

You can’t start this kind of talking too early. From the time your child is an infant until he is about 3, he has what Maria Montessori called an absorbent mind. He learns by absorbing what he sees, hears, touches, smells, and feels. It is an unconscious kind of learning. No one actively teaches him how to speak or understand his language. He picks it up without effort.

After age 3 and as your child gets older, he still learns by absorbing, but now he becomes actively involved in gaining knowledge and skills. He asks questions, explores, and discovers more and more through exercising his own curiosity. During this time, the more you talk to him, the more language, information, and understanding of his world he will absorb. Through talk and conversation, you are naturally making an emotional connection with your child that will pay off in school, on tests and in life.  So keep that conversation going after your child is 4, 5, 6, 7 and so on until your child grows up.

Whew, there are so many things to work on with your child…and it is great to know that you can work on language and knowledge in such a natural way.  Of course, like many parents, you probably want to go beyond that in building your child’s fundamental language skills, and that’s why we at have mapped the process out for you, step by step, stage by stage, skill by skill and test by test.  We did our parenting homework, and boy, did it pay off!  Please don’t waste your precious parenting time trying to go it alone…that’s not necessary.  We’ve set something up that’s easy and fun for you to use and support your child’s language and intellectual growth.

Where are They Now?

Not long ago, I was speaking to a group of parents at a luncheon and I told the story about Sandy and Aaron.  A woman came up to me and said, “I know Sandy and Aaron.  Have you heard what happened to him?”  Indeed I hadn’t, as many years had passed and I’d long since moved away.  It seems that Aaron recently graduated from Harvard and his younger brother was studying at the University of Cambridge.  I was tickled pink to hear this – proof that the mom I first thought was crazy was indeed crazy – crazy like a fox!  She knew exactly what she was doing and her smart mothering paid off big time!  Let’s all follow Sandy’s lead and keep the conversation going with our kids and grandkids, no matter how young they are.

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