Earlier this summer, Parentology published a 30 million word gap article that took parents by surprise. It explained how children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often started school less prepared for learning than their wealthier peers. The gap between the two groups spans 30 million words. The general effect is that children with stronger vocabularies score better grades in school. They also tend to become higher-income earners.
Many parents may worry about closing that gap, giving their children a better chance at success. According to a video produced by Child Trends News Service and Ivanhoe Broadcast News, fiction may provide the answers parents are looking for.
Understanding the Word Gap
The word gap gained media attention in 2014. This is when President Obama issued a new initiative aimed at improving literacy among children from low-income families. Even so, educators and literacy experts have known about the problem for years. The Atlantic estimates less than half of children from poorer backgrounds begin school with the right skills for not just reading, but also behavioral control and math.
There are several reasons for this difference. Chief among them: wealthier parents spend an extra 30 minutes per day on average with their kids. This time may include bedtime stories or help with homework. Still, it’s more a case of reduced access to information than the income that allows the gap to grow and widen.
Making Use of Make-Believe
Dr. Deena Weisberg works with the department of psychological and brain sciences at Villanova University. She led a recent study that highlighted the importance of fiction in developing a strong vocabulary. One of the most surprising findings in the study is that children learned more words when interacting with fantasy stories than with other types of reading.
This may result from the need to rely more on reasoning skills to understand a different reality. Psychologists refer to this as imaginative cognition. Weisberg believes interest may also play a role. Children may feel more drawn to dragons, superheroes and other fantasy content because of their make-believe qualities.
Creating a Place for Mobile Technology
A 2017 study published by the US Education Resources Information Center states that wealth disparities have increased in the past 40 years. It added that mobile technology can help to close the 30 million word gap that income inequalities create. For parents concerned about screen time, this may provide a whole new perspective.
The study suggested interacting with apps on mobile devices may help children learn more words. It mostly speaks to word games aimed at children. Still, considering Weisberg’s findings, parents may also provide access to children’s books in the fantasy genre.
The Bottom Line
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to bridging the 30 million word gap. Every child is different and learns in his or her own way. Even so, parents can combine the findings from literacy experts, using them to create their own plan for closing the gap. This may give their children a better chance of excelling in school today and at work tomorrow.
30 Million Word Gap Initiative — Sources
Child Trends News Service: How Fiction Stories Fight the 30 Million Word Gap
The Atlantic: Poor Kids and the ‘Word Gap’
US Education Resources Information Center: Mobile Technology Bridges the 30 Million Word Gap