Not every child is exposed to a rich language environment.

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Screen Shot 2019-10-11 at 5.19.15 PM.pngChildren from low-income families hear approximately 600 words every hour, whereas children from higher-income families hear approximately 2,000 words an hour. This 30 million word gap leads to dramatic differences in vocabularies of 18 month old children, which increase significantly between 18 months and 24 months. 

  1. Children from impoverished environments may experience pronounced disparities in cognition, academic performance, IQ and school readiness early on that persist throughout the child’s lifetime. This inequality may be attributable to a large disparity in children’s early-language environments.
  2. Children from low-income families hear approximately 600 words every hour, whereas children from higher-income families hear 2,000 words an hour. Throughout the course of three years, this accumulates into a 30 million word gap between low income children and children from higher-income families. This 30 million word gap contributes to the stark disparities in academic performance and is influenced by a generational lack of access to education and language nutrition.
  3. Differences in early language environments lead to dramatic differences in vocabularies of 18 month-old children, which increase significantly between 18 months and 24 months. 
  4. Children who have heard fewer words since birth, are likely to know fewer words and have a less diverse vocabulary by age three.
  5. Children who are ill-prepared to start school are often unable to catch up, and thus, the achievement gap widens. Educational researcher Gloria Landson-Billings suggests that the achievement gap leads to an “educational debt” (analogous to the concept of a “national debt”), at the core of which is a generational lack of access to quality education. This “educational debt” becomes a cyclical process that brings socioeconomic co-morbidities such as illiteracy, under- or unemployment, health and behavioral issues and poverty.

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Bridging the Word Gap

The relationship between socioeconomic status and the word gap may be mediated by parents’ knowledge of child development. Knowledge about child development and how to support it seems to predict the frequency and quality of a parent’s communication with her child more than income or level of parent education. Therefore, efforts must be made to bridge the 30 million word gap, narrow the achievement gap and foster educational success for all children, regardless of the family’s socioeconomic status. Empowered Education and GoMo Health aim to help build that bridge.

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How Reading to Children Impacts Their Lives.

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“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.
 I sat there with Sally. We sat there, we two.
And I said, ‘How I wish we had something to do!’”

These are the immortal opening lines from Dr. Seuss’ classic book, The Cat in the HatHaving read these lines thousands of times to my three children, at one time I had virtually the whole book memorized! I used to love reading and rereading the story of the mischievous feline, doing voices and intonations and asking questions as I went along. Of course, the major question is, “would you have let the cat into the house?” Reading The Cat in the Hat was clearly as much fun for me as it was for my kids and now my grandkids.

The value of reading to young children cannot be overemphasized. Many studies over the past 20 years show that spending time reading to preschool children is vital for boosting low-income children’s vocabularies, language development, sound awareness, and letter recognition abilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics data, only 20 percent of 4-year-olds in poverty can recognize all 26 letters, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above the poverty level.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children introduced to reading early in life tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age. Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read. Children who enter school with these skills have an advantage that carries with them throughout their school years. However, more than 1 in 3 American children enter Kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read.

Unfortunately, the ability to meaningfully read to children is not an innate talent. “Everyone feels like they know how to read a book to children,” says Karen Stoiber, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, “but in reality, many parents and teachers need coaching on how to ask questions as they go along to emphasize rhyming and to teach children how to follow words on the page.” Indeed, the process of coaching parents to help their child’s cognitive development should be part of a comprehensive educational process beginning in the prenatal period. Learning how to read to your child is an important part of this process.

One effective method for coaching parents in literacy development is Educare. EduCare is a maternal and child health program designed exclusively for health, language and literacy development. The solution delivers personalized guidance via mobile device to women or caregivers throughout pregnancy and baby’s early childhood through age 8.

Along with literacy development, EduCare also guides mom in:

  • Learning progression
  • Physical health
  • Psychological wellness
  • Emotional support
  • Social skills and peer engagement

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To learn more about EduCare visit: http://www.gomohealth.com/educare/

Latest research reveals the more you hug your kids – the smarter they get.

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Are you the kind of parent that’s always hugging your kids? If the answer is yes then don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

According to new research, physical affection during a baby’s development period is even more important than we thought. 

The more you hug a baby, the more their brains grow, according to a recent survey from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

125 babies, both premature and full-term, were included in the study, which looked at how well they responded to being physically touched.

The results indicated that premature babies responded to affection less than babies who were not born premature. What was also revealed however, was that babies that were subjected to more affection by parents or hospital staff showed stronger brain response.

According to researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre, this last revelation tells us that something as simple as body contact or rocking your baby in your arms will make a big difference in how their brains develop.

“Making sure that preterm babies receive positive, supportive touch such as skin-to-skin care by parents is essential to help their brains respond to gentle touch in ways similar to those of babies who experienced an entire pregnancy inside their mother’s womb,” Maitre tells Science Daily.

Basically, affection is vital for the development of the brain. So, cuddle and hug your babies as much as you can – and don’t forget to share this research to show everyone out there how important it is to be loving to our children!

End of the lullaby as younger parents eschew the bedtime ritual, survey finds.

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I just read an article in the Telegraph by Camilla Turner that amazed me. She wrote, “It may once have been seen by parents as a staple of the bedtime regime – but now it seems that lullabies are falling out of favour as younger parents eschew the ritual.”  

Just over a third (38 per cent) of parents sing lullabies to their children aged under five, according to a YouGov poll of over 2,000 adults.  

But the vast majority – 70 per cent – of those who sing lullabies are aged over 45-years-old, suggesting that the practice is less popular with younger parents. Maybe that explains my shock as I am a grand parent now and would still sing to my grandchildren.

The poll shows that women are more than twice as likely to sing to their children every night than men.

Research carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital has previously shown that lullabies help to make children feel better.  

They sang the songs to a group of children under three, some of whom were waiting for heart transplants, and monitored their heart rates and pain perception.  

Results of the study, published by the journal Psychology of Music, showed that a group of child patients at the hospital experienced lower heart rates, less anxiety and reduced perception of pain after they had lullabies sung to them.  

A separate study, published by the National Literacy Trust last year, found that singing songs and rhymes with your baby and young child support language development and reading skills by encouraging children to listen carefully to predict.

Laura Jane-Foley, a soprano singer and ambassador for the Lullaby Trust which aims to prevent unexpected deaths in infancy and promote infant health, said: “Singing to children is just as important as reading to them.

“The musical three R’s of rhythm, rhyming and repetition are crucial to a child’s mental and emotional development and, by participating in the shared activity of singing, parents are strengthening the bonds between parent and child.”

I am preparing to work on two early childhood literacy programs within NICU units. Hopefully we will gain some insights there as well. Find out more about the power of singing to infants at http://www.talkwithmebaby.org.

Here is a classic in case you need a prompt.

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Ralph Nader on Early Childhood Education.

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When Ralph Nader visited Atlanta I shared our pilot programs for new moms, now named Educare, with him over a coffee.

Here are some of Nader’s thoughts regarding parents’ involvement in early childhood education. 

Nader believes education is clearly a significant factor in enhancing the future of impoverished children. Education levels bear heavily on efforts to bring families out of poverty and in providing livable wages for low and moderate and middle-income families.

Nader is adamant, “We need to invest in the nation’s children. We must assure an adequate safety net, health care, higher quality and more plentiful child care and vastly better educational opportunities, particularly as early as Kindergarten.” 

Parental responsibility should be encouraged by finding ways to help support parents in their efforts to help support their children as more families confront economic conditions demanding a greater deal of time be spent away from home. Parents should be as involved as possible in their children’s education; values do start with parents.

We both believe that early parental involvement is a way in which elementary education can be changed to make a real difference in the lives of our children.

Language Nutrition

Just as healthy food nourishes a growing baby’s body, language nutrition nourishes a baby’s brain. Quantity and quality of nourishing language, like healthy food, is critical to brain development.

Language-rich adult-child interactions, beginning at birth, have a direct impact on social-emotional and cognitive development and language and literacy ability.

The impact of adult-child interactions on the brains of infants and toddlers is unparalleled by any other stage of development, as this is the time when they are forming the neural “connections that build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all learning, behavior and health depend” (Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University).

cropped-screen-shot-2018-04-05-at-7-21-50-am1.pngA solid foundation of language nutrition – the use of language, beginning at birth, that is sufficiently rich in engagement, quality, quantity and context that it nourishes the child socially, neurologically and linguistically – is critical in developing a child’s capacity to learn.

Babies Who Get Cuddled More Seem to Have Their Genetics Changed For Years Afterwards

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The amount of close and comforting contact that young infants get doesn’t just keep them warm, snug, and loved.

A 2017 study says it can actually affect babies at the molecular level, and the effects can last for years.

Based on the study, babies who get less physical contact and are more distressed at a young age, end up with changes in molecular processes that affect gene expression.

The team from the University of British Columbia in Canada emphasises that it’s still very early days for this research, and it’s not clear exactly what’s causing the change.

But it could give scientists some useful insights into how touching affects the epigenome-the biochemical changes that influence gene expression in the body.

During the study, parents of 94 babies were asked to keep diaries of their touching and cuddling habits from five weeks after birth, as well as logging the behaviour of the infants – sleeping, crying, and so on.

Four-and-a-half years later, DNA swabs were taken of the kids to analyse a biochemical modification called DNA methylation.

It’s an epigenetic mechanism in which some parts of the chromosome are tagged with small carbon and hydrogen molecules, often changing how genes function and affecting their expression.

The researchers found DNA methylation differences between “high-contact” children and “low-contact” children at five specific DNA sites, two of which were within genes: one related to the immune system, and one to the metabolic system.

DNA methylation also acts as a marker for normal biological development and the processes that go along with it, and it can be influenced by external, environmental factors as well.

Then there was the epigenetic age, the biological ageing of blood and tissue. This marker was lower than expected in the kids who hadn’t had much contact as babies, and had experienced more distress in their early years, compared with their actual age.

“In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing could reflect less favourable developmental progress,” said one team member, Michael Kobor.

Gaps between epigenetic age and chronological age have been linked to health problems in the past, but again it’s too soon to draw those kind of conclusions: the scientists readily admit they don’t yet know how this will affect the kids later in life.

We are also talking about less than 100 babies in the study, but it does seem that close contact and cuddles do somehow change the body at a genetic level.

Of course it’s well accepted that human touch is good for us and our development in all kinds of ways, but this is the first study to look at how it might be changing the epigenetics of human babies.

It will be the job of further studies to work out why, and to investigate whether any long-term changes in health might appear as a consequence.

“We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” said one of the researchers, Sarah Moore.

“If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

The research was published in Development and Psychopathology.