An article I read recently, which I am sharing with you, reminded me of an experience I had years ago…
A friend of mine was teaching a class of at-risk four year olds in a public school. She paired each child with a volunteer “buddy” from the community and I agreed to be a buddy.
The little girl with whom I was paired came from a family that was impoverished in every sense of the word. When she arrived at preschool her vocabulary consisted of “cookie” and “pee pee”. During the course of the year, under the influence of this excellent teacher, she absorbed a lot of language, and one day, as I was sitting in a hallway reading a book to her, she began talking to me, very excitedly. I was thrilled to see how animated she was and how much she was able to express. About that time, a teacher who happened to know me came walking by. She stopped and told the little girl, “You need to be quiet and listen to the book Mrs. Long is reading to you.” Of course the teacher meant well, but she had completely misread the situation.
The real purpose of what I was doing was to help this little girl develop language, not teach her to passively listen to a book. At her level of development, it was much more important for her to engage in conversation.
Being able to express oneself through spoken language (or sign) is the first step toward literacy, and now there is research to show that the lack of exposure to the kind of verbal exchange which is the very definition of conversation results in differences in brain development and function. Previous research has shown that children from economically disadvantaged homes have heard an average of 30 MILLION fewer words by the time they are four years old than those from high socioeconomic backgrounds. The research in the following article compared brain scans of children from very low socioeconomic backgrounds to those of children from high socioeconomic backgrounds. The scans show that many of those children who have heard so many fewer words have underdeveloped executive function. Isn’t it ironic that, in most schools, those at-risk children are the very ones who are most likely to be taught by methods that discourage conversation?
I hope you find this article as interesting as I did. Here’s the link: EEGs show brain differences between poor and rich kids