Fort Worth, Texas,
08:04 AM

Everyone should home school (part 1)

Masters in parenting series from TheDocSmitty

Part 1- Preschool

Ok,so everyone who knows me already knew that I wasn't actually advocating home schooling in the traditional kinder-twelfth grade manner. I believe that parents should school their kids however they feel they works best for their family and their child. I know families who have chosen to home school some of their children while putting the others in public and/or private schools.  They chose what they thought was best based on their individual child and I applaud that.

One thing I would stress is to make sure you don't do anything out of social pressure. People who hang out with people who home school will get tremendous pressure to home school, but some parents simply aren't made in the mold of the home school teacher (especially me). People who hang out with people who do private school will insist that you can't get a good education anywhere else, and that's simply not true. So, weigh your options carefully and make a decision and go with it. Ok, soap box rant over...

However, it's important to remember that educating your child does not start with your decision of where they start kindergarten and it doesn't end when you make the decision and send them off to their first day of school.

You may have seen the following study or heard glimpses of it before, but I don't believe that there is a more powerful study regarding child development so I am going to go over it again:

Observing kids in a preschool, 2 researchers from the University of Kansas, Dr. Todd Risley and Dr. Betty Hart, noticed a difference in the development of vocabulary between the professors' kids and other children in the preschool.  They tried several strategies to get the other children talking, but nothing that they did at the day care enabled them to catch up to the professors' kids in increasing their vocabulary. Interestingly, they were able to get the children talking more, but not with a broader vocabulary. They realized that something must be happening before age 4 that was causing the difference between the two group.  So, they decided to do a study.

They enrolled children in the study by calling people out of the birth announcements in the Kansas City newspaper and then they "began recording what the people were saying to each other, to the child, (and) to each other in the child's presence." Once a month an observer would go to the home and audibly record, as well as make observations about what was going on in the home while they were there.  They followed the children from 9 months to 36 months.

There were 2 big discoveries:

1. The children who had bigger vocabularies had families who talked A LOT. There wasn't a lot of fancy teaching going on or flash cards, just talking. The difference was striking: 2100 words per hour in the professional families vs 600 words per hour in lower socioeconomic settings. This resulted in a 50 percent higher vocabulary and a higher IQ for those children at age 3.

2. Children who had bigger vocabularies had parents who used more "rich language" and not all "business talk." There is a certain amount of instruction that needs to happen with a toddler: "Sit down," "Eat your carrots," “Get your finger out of your nose” and "Don't hit your brother" are common phrases around our house. But it's not those words that lead to language development. The better phrases incorporate phrases like "what if," "shouldn't you" and "remember." These phrases came naturally as the number of words spoken increased because you get past the necessary business talk and into the rich language as your speech quantity increases.

The amazing things about the study is that they were looking to compare socioeconomic groups, but what they found is that if they stripped everything down the only remaining factor in predicting success in vocabulary was the quantity of words spoken and had nothing to do with the child's background.

There are so many interesting aspects of this study and you can read more about it here in an interview with Dr. Risley:

Where Vocabulary Growth Comes From 

Here's how you can use this research to start your child "home-schooling" early.

1. Talk to your baby/toddler.  It seems weird and awkward because early on you get nothing back, but they are soaking up every syllable into a construct in their brain that will likely come spilling back at you at some point when they are ready. Get in front of them and let them see you form the words with your mouth.  Use "parentease." Parentease is that higher pitched, sing-songy style of talking that anyone else listening would make fun of you for, but babies do understand and hear it better.

2. Talk with rich language. Explain things to them. Describe things. I've told this before, but my wife and I like to call our speech with our kids "narrating their world." When we can, everything they touch gets a noun label.  Then we will move on to adding an adjective or a verb when time allows and when they are becoming more developmentally advanced.

Here's an example of how that goes in our house:

"Hannah did you find a ball?"

"Ooohhh, look at that red ball.  And here's a blue ball too, Hannah."

"Hannah, are you going to throw that ball?  Yeahhh, you threw it."

We use our children's names all the time. In fact, we had to reconsider our list of baby names after our first because we realized what sounds cute once doesn’t always sound so cute the thousandth time you say it. It gets their attention in a way that isn't threatening in the way that, "Hey you, listen to me!!  (Sweet transition) Is that a red ball?" is.

3. Pretend they say stuff. It's OK. Using the above example, the first time Hannah said anything that even remotely sounded like ball, we got so excited. "That's right Hannah, it is a ball." I'm pretty sure she didn't even know what happened, but all the smiling and excitement was positive reinforcement and she was trying to say ball over and over again. Now, it's her favorite word.

Language development is such a critical component to the overall success of your child. There is nothing else that you can do that has a bigger impact on their future, so get to talking and talking and talking.



About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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Such great advice. We try to tell everyone who cares for our toddler (mostly grandparents, the worst offenders) not to use "baby talk" but to speak to her just like you would an adult. We also use every opportunity we can to practice our vocabulary and give her a chance to repeat words. Things like, "Let's go for a ride in your wagon! Can you say wagon? Wagon!"