Hart & Risley
The importance of early experience with language was illustrated in a longitudinal study by Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley and documented in their books “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of American Children” and “The Social World of Children Learning to Talk.”
To address persistent deficits in language that they observed in the preschool children they taught in Kansas City, Drs. Hart and Risley from the University of Kansas, Life Span Studies Institute, conducted a study to find out what infants and toddlers experienced in their homes in terms of early language exposure. Over a three-year study, differences in children’s every day experiences with language made for staggering differences in the cumulative amount of talk they heard in their homes. The disparity was most pronounced for children growing up in poverty resulting in over a 30-million word gap in experience with language between children from the most disadvantaged homes as they describe in their 1995 book as well as in a summary of that work in the American Educator.
Follow-up on Hart & Risley Sample
Following up on children from the original Hart & Risley sample, researchers from Juniper Gardens Children’s Project (JGCP), documented that the deficits in children’s vocabulary development resulting from differential early language learning experiences in home that were identified by Hart & Risley, persisted for children through early elementary school. Children who heard less language in their homes when they were babies were more likely to have poor school readiness skills, lower spoken language and lower reading skills compared to the children who heard more language in their homes.
Translating Research into Practice
The implications of early language deficits are serious as children who enter school at a disadvantage may continue to perform below their peers and may be at risk for language delays, poor school readiness and later literacy among other more serious negative outcomes including behavior problems, social isolation and the skills necessary to be successfully employed later in life.
Given the connections between early communication skills, later language development, early literacy outcomes, school readiness, and social competency there is a need to translate language intervention research into practice that is used. While key intervention strategies have been found to facilitate language and early literacy skills in practice by researchers and clinicians and by early interventionists and educators with coaching support, they are not always used by parents, home visitors, and teachers in their daily activities. Our program of research has worked to develop and test a model for language intervention that helps adults to communicate and talk more with infants and young children across daily activities at home and in early learning programs.