Previous Post Next Post

Mom

Brought to you by

The Not-So-Secret to Raising Smart Kids

By Madeline Holler |

childhood development, reading and children

Who cares when the kids start reading. What's really important is when parents do.

Of the early childhood milestones, first word has got to be the most loaded for the parents. When that first utterance occurs — before the first birthday, months and months after? –  says so much about the child’s native intelligence and how we’re doing as parents. At least that’s how a lot of us feel.

And sure, baby’s first words are a reward for all those careful decisions we made, both while pregnant and after the birth. “Oh, she’s talking at 10 months … the payoff to abstaining from wine for all those long months of pregnancy!”

“This breastfeeding really does work!”

“Good thing I took all that time off to be the one who is raising my child.”

All those things matter, in some ways. But they’re not likely the biggest influence on early childhood development and a child’s reading readiness and future performance at school, according to a new study from the U.K. What’s really getting kids ready to read — and do math, it turns out — is talking. Lots and lots of talking. Also, not too much TV and, you know the drill, reading to them while they’re young. And preschool! Basically, getting them in situations where they’re surrounded by words, written and spoken.

Researchers followed a group of kids who were born in 1994 and 1995 and tracked how often they went to the library, how many books each of them owned and how much TV they watched; they compared this data with future reading and math test performance. The bottom line is that social and economic background didn’t matter so much. Instead, more books/less TV did.

The Role of Language in Children’s Early Educational Outcomes, a report published in June, concluded that a child’s educational success can be set in the right direction before the child’s second birthday — well before they even begun attending school.

From the report [via ScienceDaily]:

“One message coming through loud and clear is that how a child learns in their very early years is critical for smooth transition into the educational system,” said Professor James Law, Newcastle University, who was one of the researchers in the University of the West of England-led study.

“Although we recognise that traditional indicators of social risk such as material wealth remain influential later on, what you do with your child and how you communicate with them when they’re under two is far more important than having a flash car or a detached house in the country.

“This is a very positive message as it gets us away from the belief that a child’s educational future is pre-determined by standard measures of socio-economic disadvantage such as income, housing or the mother’s education.”

I think this is also evidence for more support to families with young children — longer maternity and paternity leaves, quality and funded childcare so that instead of working to pay hundreds every month for babysitters and rent, they can just work on bringing in rent and spend more time with the kids.

Also, funding libraries! That great underloved resource in the U.S. Where I live, the libraries are closed on Sundays, which is sometimes the only day off many people have.

Finally, spreading the word. Kids don’t need a TV on in the background of every day. They can spend time with books or talking to their adults. There’s a big payoff in the end, we just have to make that investment in resources and educating parents up front.

Photo: bfhoyt via flickr

More on Babble

About Madeline Holler

madeline-holler

Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

« Go back to Mom

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Comments, together with personal information accompanying them, may be used on Babble.com and other Babble media platforms. Learn More.

0 thoughts on “The Not-So-Secret to Raising Smart Kids

  1. Andrea says:

    Good to know, because this is totally our family. No TV in the main areas of our home and no commerical TV period. I spend 2 – 3 hours every day reading to my kids. Harry Potter (check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=l9O4JQPobS8), recipes, newspapers (we are in love with Will and Kate who are visiting Canada at the moment), and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom about 100 times a day. We play piano, read music, read the Periodic Table, read everything.

  2. yahoudi says:

    “longer maternity and paternity leaves, quality and funded childcare so that instead of working to pay hundreds every month for babysitters and rent, they can just work on bringing in rent and spend more time with the kids.”"
    So less time working and the child care is paid for- by whom? Oh yeah- the people who work full time. Thanks. Think this has anything to do with America being less competitive than foreign countries? Work less, use more. Paid for by the schmucks who still work for a living.

  3. yahoudi says:

    Why not just have the kids WHEN you can afford them? Otherwise, er….. DON’T.

  4. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Who’s the good mom? WHO’S THE GOOD MOM? That’s right, YOU are!!!

  5. Linda t.o.o. says:

    I actually belieeve that intelligence is mostly determiend by genetics and there’s an awful lot of research to back that up.

  6. Gretchen Powers says:

    Meh…who cares, then….now, where’s my remote and cigarettes?

  7. Holly says:

    @Linda too. Yeah, I agree. Freakonomics said it best – it’s not about “having books in the home” it’s about having the type of parents who are likely to have books in the home, sans any public health intervention. Smart parents equals smart kids, by and large. Number one factor in kid smarts is the education level of mom.

  8. Gretchen Powers says:

    Ah, anything to diminish the importance of mothering in those key 0-3 years that so few seem to want to be a part of anymore, right? “It doesn’t matter what you do with your kids…” Bullocks! As far as the paid maternity leave/childcare line, I’ll give you subsidized maternity leave, but I really don’t think kids 0-3 belong in any kind of long-term, all-day care…and this info supports that. Sorry, no day care worker is going to give your child the focused, individualized conversation that a good (or even good enough) mom can. Let’s be honest. To a mom, a child’s talking is the world, it’s interesting, she hangs on the little one’s words. To a paid worker, it’s just…work.

  9. Madeline Holler says:

    I don’t know, GP, I think plenty of SAH-Dads would argue with you. And a bunch of nannies, too. Just yesterday, my son’s former daycare teacher came over to play out our house because she missed my son so much. She was telling me how attached she gets to the kids and how she thinks about the kids even when she’s not being paid to think about them. There are daycare situations that you wouldn’t believe — how attached everyone is (while still being attached to mom!). Usually, these have a great ratio of teachers to kids, lots of support, etc. THere are amazing childcare centers out there — but they’re expensive. The one my son goes to now is oen such — affordable to us because it’s subsidized by there university where it’s at.
    The fact of the modern world is that women work as well as men. Some choose to, some have to. Some half choose-half have to, all that is beside the point. A solid society needs to have support for parents and children and subsidized, flexible, outstanding childcare is part of that.

  10. Gretchen Powers says:

    I’ll give you Dads, even grandparents, to some extent, and I realize there are “excellent” child care centers, but they do not love your children. They are providing a service. For pay.

  11. Madeline Holler says:

    You’d think! And yet …

  12. Andrea says:

    “There are daycare situations that you wouldn’t believe — how attached everyone is (while still being attached to mom!)” Oh how desparately working moms want to believe this. Because the alternative is just too horrible to contemplate. Leaving your child all day with people who don’t love them, and only take care of them for money. So you can buy shoes and lattes and feel “important”. It’s sad. North Americans are the richest people that ever lived, but still try to convice themselves they can’t afford to raise their own children, and anyways, who cares – anyone can raise a child.

  13. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I pity these women who have so little in their lives that they must endlessly cheer their own choices while simultaneously mischaracterizing and denigrating the choices other families make. Such rudeness really is a sign of poor breeding.

  14. Trish says:

    @ Andrea. I respect your idea that staying home is best for your child and yes, I can afford to stay home but I choose not to. My child’s teachers do love her and have been unquestionably an asset in her development. I really think the worst thing you can teach a child is to judge without information. My child is funny, well-rounded, intelligent, and independent. Everyday I make choices to encourage her development – then I get myself a latte and enjoy our life together. The article was not about staying home vs working mothers – it was about talking to your child, turning off the tv, and reading to your child – don’t muddy the message .

  15. Poorly bred white woman says:

    But here’s the thing…you need to BE AROUND to do these things…”talking to your child, turning off the tv, and reading to your child”

  16. Samantha says:

    @Andrea– Generally speaking, you don’t make enough teaching preschool to stay with it unless you do, genuinely, love working with kids. I adored my class; I’ve stayed friends with some of the parents and, though I’m a SAHM now, I went back to see my kids “graduate”. I genuinely miss them.

    If this article is true, my kid’s going to be a genius. Unfortunately, all she’ll ever talk about (or to) is cats.

  17. AmyB says:

    There ARE wonderful childcare options out there, but they aren’t necessarily easy to find. I HAVE to work in order for my family to have health insurance – my husband is self employed and I have pre-existing conditions that make it impossible for me to get insurance on the open market. Our daycare is great though – the teachers in the infant room had been there for 20+ years each and truly loved my son – it was like having 3 additional grandmas who had raised hundreds of kids before him. One was even my next door neighbor when I was a little girl. The teachers talk and interact with the kids ALL DAY and have more patience for it than I ever could. They play with them, read to them, sing and dance with them, even make scrapbooks of them. The children love the teachers and the teachers do truly love what they do. My son is 4 years old now and I’m sure that his excellent vocab/speaking skills are due in large part to this wonderful daycare. So before you make blanket statements about “paid workers” and “moms who want to buy shoes and latte” please understand thatfor some families daycare is a WONDERFUL option and part of my “village” that is helping me raise a smart, caring, loving son.

  18. AmyB says:

    There ARE wonderful childcare options out there, but they aren’t necessarily easy to find. I HAVE to work in order for my family to have health insurance – my husband is self employed and I have pre-existing conditions that make it impossible for me to get insurance on the open market. Our daycare is great though – the teachers in the infant room had been there for 20 years each and truly loved my son – it was like having 3 additional grandmas who had raised hundreds of kids before him. One was even my next door neighbor when I was a little girl. The teachers talk and interact with the kids ALL DAY and have more patience for it than I ever could. They play with them, read to them, sing and dance with them, even make scrapbooks of them. The children love the teachers and the teachers do truly love what they do. My son is 4 years old now and I’m sure that his excellent vocab/speaking skills are due in large part to this wonderful daycare. So before you make blanket statements about “paid workers” and “moms who want to buy shoes and latte” please understand thatfor some families daycare is a WONDERFUL option and part of my “village” that is helping me raise a smart, caring, loving son.

  19. AmyB says:

    There ARE wonderful childcare options out there, but they aren’t necessarily easy to find. I HAVE to work in order for my family to have health insurance – my husband is self employed and I have pre-existing conditions that make it impossible for me to get insurance on the open market. Our daycare is great though – the teachers in the infant room had been there for 20+ years each and truly loved my son – it was like having 3 additional grandmas who had raised hundreds of kids before him. One was even my next door neighbor when I was a little girl. The teachers talk and interact with the kids ALL DAY and have more patience for it than I ever could. They play with them, read to them, sing and dance with them, even make scrapbooks of them. The children love the teachers and the teachers do truly love what they do. My son is 4 years old now and I’m sure that his excellent vocab/speaking skills are due in large part to this wonderful daycare. So before you make blanket statements about “paid workers” and “moms who want to buy shoes and latte” please understand that for some families daycare is a WONDERFUL option and part of our “village” that is helping us raise a smart, caring, loving son.

  20. AmyB says:

    sorry for the triple post – every time I hit submit I got an error message saying my post hadn’t gone through.

  21. Dina Rose says:

    There was a study done a few years ago that showed that parents who used old fashioned prams, where the baby faced the parents, talked to their kids more than parents with modern strollers, where baby faces away from the parent. Talking to kids and listening to their replies engages their curiosity and their thinking. http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com

  22. Anon says:

    Wow, a child’s first word usually has very little to do with their intelligence. I am really tired of this. There are plenty of late talkers, as well as those with true speech delays or disorders that are just as intelligent if not more so than early talkers.

  23. Eryn A says:

    I was lucky enough to stay home with my son his first year, and he hit all his milestones and devolped as any normal baby would. He even said his first word at around 10 months. But just after his first birthday, I went back to work. I found an amazing daycare and I know for a fact my son is not just a weekly check to them. They truely love my little boy and I can never thank them enough for that. But that being said, since my son has been in daycare he has learned and grown so much. He is 23 months right now and can count to 10 and spell his name and I credit it all to his amazing daycare and the teachers he has working with him. Of course I wish I could stay home with my little boy and teach him these things myself, but that just isn’t an option for our family at this point in time. But to help the process along we read every night and as we are driving places we always count, spell his name and sing our ABC’s.

    At the end of the day every parent is going to do what is best for them. If you disagree with how I choose to raise my children and how we live our lives. I have great news for you! You have your own family and can do whatever you want with them! Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you.

  24. nmcdnyc says:

    This is meaningless unless there is a statistically significant difference in school performance in the 3rd grade. It’s ancient news that these early experiences make a big difference in the early years but time after time these early gains even out by 3rd grade so that there is no measurable difference between kids who were read to a lot and those who weren’t. This is basically a stick to beat parents of young children with. Read to your kids — OR ELSE!

    I am all for reading to kids but why can’t we just do it because it’s fun, because it fires their imaginations. Why must every thing be measured and justified in “outcomes”?

  25. Kelly says:

    Bottom line: parents should all remember that the main reason why we are working is for the welfare of our children. So spending more time in the office, and less quality time with our children defeats our purpose in the first place.

    That’s why I always make sure that though I am busy earning bucks, I still have time to teach my children what I ought. I still give the time to have fun with them. I am so proud of my babies. :) I am keeping their pictures here: http://www.babypics.com.

    I am just so happy that I am being the best parent i could be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Previous Post Next Post