The phrases “achievement gap” and “opportunity gap” have long been common in the education community. Recently, however, researchers have begun to place greater emphasis on the “word gap” — a vocabulary discrepancy between children in low versus high-income families. Research indicates that children in lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers, and acquire hundreds of words less by the age of three. This difference is significant because children who have weak literacy skills in kindergarten, on average, are the same children who will have weak literacy skills in seventh grade. Furthermore, developmental trends suggest that a vocabulary gap evident in a four year old can influence that child’s opportunity to succeed all the way through adulthood.
So, how does this gap occur? The gap in hearing words translates directly into a gap of acquiring words. A child’s ability to acquire vocabulary is tied to parents and caregivers talking directly to their infants and toddlers. This means that simply hearing words from adult conversations or listening to the television does not help influence word acquisition.
Unfortunately, many parents don’t have this information and underestimate the powerful role they can play in the first months of their child’s life to set him or her up for success. But fortunately, with the right information and resources, parents can make a big difference. This is where Too Small to Fail and Univision come into play.
We at the Clinton Foundation are excited to be partnering with Univision Communications Inc., the leading media company serving Hispanic America, to help improve the health and well-being of America’s youngest children. Nationally, one in four children under the age of five is Hispanic, and Hispanics represent the fastest growing population in the United States. Recent research shows that Hispanic families are not reading, singing and telling stories to their young children as often as other families. Providing information and resources about literacy development to Hispanic communities is critical because the decisions that parents and caregivers make today will influence not only their children’s futures, but the future of our country.
The partnership between Too Small to Fail and Univision, branded in Spanish as “Pequeños y Valiosos,” or “Young and Valuable,” will deliver expert research, commentary, and information across Univision platforms about the importance of direct communication with one’s child from their earliest days. Univision has a strong dedication to education, which it has demonstrated through Univision Contigo, an award-winning initiative that empowers audiences with information and access to education, health, prosperity, and participation resources, ultimately enabling Hispanic families to take immediate action to live their best life story.
Through our partnership, Univision’s website will offer factsheets, tips, and special content for Spanish-speaking caregivers provided by some of our closest partners, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, First Book, the National Council of La Raza, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Sesame Workshop, and Zero to Three. Coinciding with our launch, Univision also created a “roadblock” of special programming promoting early learning across its programs, including its morning show, daily newsmagazine, nightly news, radio station, and public service announcements.
Too Small to Fail and Univision’s ultimate goal is to empower parents and caregivers with the latest information—paired with immediate, concrete actions for parents—in order to improve their child’s vocabulary and resulting long term success.
The Clinton Foundation believes that every parent has the power to give a young child a better shot and that every child deserves the best possible chance at success. As a parent, and as your child’s first teacher, you can make a difference by utilizing these tips for every day interaction with your child:
- Talk often: Talk with your baby regularly throughout the day. Find opportunities for him or her to hear words in everyday moments—describing what you are doing, what you see on a trip to the grocery store or asking what she sees on a walk.
- Read early: Read or explore books with your baby for at least 15 minutes. Ask questions as you read and talk about the pictures. When you can, connect a picture in the book to something in the baby’s life. (For example, “That dog looks like the one we saw in the park.”)
- Sing a song: Sing songs, play games and tell stories to your baby. These are fun ways to help your child understand new words.
- Listen up: As your child makes sounds and works to say his or her first words, listen, make eye contact and respond. This will encourage him or her to keep it up.
- Bond with your baby: Hug, laugh and share close moments with your baby. This helps your baby bond with you and helps her brain develop. The more words he or she hears from you and other caregivers—and the more positive experiences she has with you—the better prepared he or she will be to learn.
- Turn it off, and tune in: Today, we’re connected to our televisions, mobile phones, and other electronic devises more than ever. But, there is not substitute for time talking, playing and engaging directly with your child.
- Ask about your child’s day, his or her feelings, or give him or her the chance to tell you a story.
On Tuesday, February 4, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Univision Communications Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Falco launched a partnership between Univision and Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation to promote young children’s vocabulary development. Read more about the announcement here.