Parents’ gestures linked to better children’s vocabulary

Check out this article from Robert Mitchum recentlly in the the Chicago Tribune. I hope it makes you want to work a bit more on using sign language with your child. 20 signs is all it takes. You can do this!!
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Child development experts have known for decades that children’s vocabulary at the time they enter school is a strong predictor of their future educational success. But a new study from University of Chicago psychologists suggests that early parental influence over vocabulary may be, literally, in their hands.

Parents who demonstrated a broad range of gestures to their children at 14 months of age produced children who gestured more broadly themselves, according to study to be published Friday in the journal Science. In turn, children who exhibited a larger “gesture vocabulary” at 14 months demonstrated a wider vocal vocabulary at 54 months, authors Meredith Rowe and Susan Goldin-Meadow reported.

That relationship may explain at least part of the observation that children from higher socioeconomic families exhibit stronger vocabulary skills when they enter school compared to children of low socioeconomic backgrounds. Parents with higher family income and more education gestured more to their children, the researchers found.

“Basically all of the socioeconomic difference in child gesture can be explained by parent gesture,” Rowe said. “It doesn’t mean that children born into a high socioeconomic status family just gesture a lot, it actually depends what a parent does.”

The study measured the number of “gesture types”–such as pointing, waving or nodding–that parents and children exhibited to each other in a 90-minute videotaped session. The 50 families studied were drawn from the greater Chicago area, reflecting a wide range of economic, cultural and educational backgrounds, Rowe said.

Though the research does not yet prove that teaching parents to gesture more will directly increase a child’s vocabulary later in life, the researchers said that the relationship does suggest something parents can try with their children. Gesturing is harmless, and potentially beneficial.

“I think it is extremely encouraging,” said Goldin-Meadow, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “Gesture is detectable early, and here’s something parents can do pretty early.”

Area speech therapists said the new finding was welcome evidence for gesture-based activities already in use for children with delayed speech or enrolled in “baby sign language” classes.

“We definitely use gestures and signs,” said Denise Boggs, a speech pathologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital. “For any child that is not talking, it gives them a framework, gives them an idea of what communication is for, and down the road they fill that in with verbalizations.”

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