Did You Know You Can Impact How Fast Your Child Learns?

Happy young mother talking with her 9 months old baby sitting on bedUS researchers Betty Hart and Tod Risley had devoted their lives to developing pre-school programs to bring poor underachieving children up to the level of learning of professors’ children. After years of research and work they realised, ‘We failed!’

They concluded that the rate at which a child’s vocabulary grows is a key to the child’s growth in intelligence . . . But

‘Vocabulary growth rates are unalterable by age four’. Something is happening in the homes before children come to early learning programs that enables rapid vocabulary growth.

Consequently they changed the direction of their research and organised a major research project to find out what was happening in the children’s homes before age four.

“The data revealed that,

  • In an average hour together, some parents spent more than 40 minutes interacting with their child, and other parents spent less than 15 minutes.
  • Some parents responded more than 250 times an hour to their child, and other responded fewer than 50 times.
  • Some parents expressed approval and encouragement of their child’s actions more than 40 times an hour, and others less than 4 times.
  • Some parents said more than 3,000 words to their child in an average hour together, and others said fewer than 500 words.
  • The data showed that, for each family, the amount the parents talked to their children was so consistent over time that the differences in the children’s language experience, mounting up month by month, were enormous by age 3.”[1]

“With few exceptions, the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s IQ test scores at age 3 and later. Amount of parent talk accounted for all the correlation between socioeconomic status (and/or race) and the verbal intellectual accomplishments of these 42 young American children.” [2]

Another discovery of Hart and Risley’s work is that families have two kinds of talk—which Hart and Risley call ‘Business talk’ and ‘Extra talk’.

The amount of business talk was similar in all families: “Come here”, “Stop that”, “It’s 12 o’clock.” But there were large differences in the amount of “Extra talk” and these differences were particularly related to children’s intellectual growth.

“. . . when parents engaged children in more talk than was needed to take care of business, the content changed automatically. When parents began to discuss feelings, plans, present activities, and past events, the vocabulary became more varied and the descriptions richer in nuances. Their talk also became more positive and responsive to their children’s talk.”[3]

The “style” of non-business talk was similar across parents. The difference was how often such “extra” talk occurred.

“ . . . the most important aspect of children’s language experience is its amount.”

If parents need to place very young children in childcare, Hart and Risley say,

“the most important aspect to evaluate in child care settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, between children and their caregivers.”[4]

Researchers assume that the speaking of many words to the child, in the home, forces the child’s brain to make many more connections between neurons, and so build a more efficient brain.


  • [1] Hart, Betty, and Todd Risley. 1995. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Life of Young American Children. Baltimore, London, Sydney: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company. p. xx.
    Hart, Betty, and Todd Risley. 1999. The Social World of Children Learning to Talk. Baltimore, London, Sydney: Paul Brookes Publishing Co.
  • [2] Hart, Betty, and Todd Risley. 1995. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Life of Young American Children. p. xx
  • [3] Meaningful Differences, p. xx.
  • [4] Meaningful Differences, p. xi.

About the Author

Dr. Moira Eastman, B.A., Dip. Ed., Ph.D. is a sociologist, former academic, and author whose work has focused on family and lately, on mothers and mothering. She has been a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values (a New York think-tank on family issues), served for 10 years as a senior lecturer at Australian Catholic University, and is a well-known and successful public speaker. Dr. Eastman’s books on family topics (Family the Vital Factor, The Magical Power of Family and We’re OK! Secrets of Happy Families) have received considerable acclaim and overall her books have sold in excess of 500,000 copies. She believes in the power of a mother’s love and a father’s love to transform society and has expressed that in her most recent work: Mothering Business—Creating the Ability to Love—A Mother’s Work!


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