Did you learn something as a child (a sport, musical instrument, riding a bike, a language, etc) that you just “know” today even though you rarely use the skill? Conversely, have you tried learning something as an adult (a sport, musical instrument, riding a bike, a language, etc) and found it extremely challenging? Most of us intuitively understand that children are sponges when it comes to learning. At the same time, as adults we understand how hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks.
Children age 0-4 pick up language by listening to the adults who talk to them. The more words they hear, the more words they learn. Unlike skills such as throwing a ball, which is a ‘nice to have’, language is a building block, necessary for follow on learning. Children who learn more words sooner (because they’ve heard more words from adults) can go on to master other academic skills like reading and math sooner while their brains are still super absorbent sponges. In many cases, the gaps that exist by the time children enter kindergarten are big enough to predict how they will perform in school for the rest of their lives.
The great news is that all parents, regardless of means, have the tools to help their kids be successful in life. The formula is really quite simple: talk more to your kids. Talk to them over breakfast or dinner. Talk to them when everyone is riding together in the car. Talk to them during diaper changes, baths, and bedtime stories. Talk to them long before they can talk back (trust us, they’re listening to every word you say).