Yet another study, this one from Britian, shows the effects of poverty on our youngest children: Five year olds who live in poverty test well behind in vocabulary–11 months behind middle class kids, 16 months behind upper class kids. Click here to read more.

Think how simple a thing vocabulary is. Do you know the names for the things and happenings in your life? For one of these five year olds, though, every thought, every interaction, every moment of playing pretend is hampered and constricted by not having the words to match with their life.

During these preschool years, experiences of the world, meeting and greeting it, and then handling it, messing around with it, playing with it are what life and learning are about. Between the ages of 3 and 5, though, children in their heads and then through their conversations must start putting words to their experiences. It’s how they learn to think; it’s how they create meaning; it’s how they understand. Otherwise, everything they experience just remains bits and pieces of “stuff.”

These children are not just behind in vocabulary when they start school. It’s as if their brains have been locked away and starved for five years.

This study, and many more before it, point to some positive correlations that we need as a society to marshal full force.  Teaching parents to take the time to talk with their children reverses this effect as does reading aloud. Teaching other adults who spend time with these children to stand in the gap and do the same can make a difference. Turning the tv’s and computers off  helps; language learning is interactive and screens are not. Giving families their own books makes a difference. Allowing children time to move around and play provides opportunities for them to use the language they do know; the drive is so deep to play that no toys are needed, just a chance to get out of a car carrier or playpen and move around safely.

Poverty will not be ameliorated any time soon. But in the midst of poverty, we need to make these little things possible for children. As small as they are, they make a huge and permanent difference.

Read on,