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The Word Gap leads to the Readiness Gap


By the age of three, low-income children have heard 30 million fewer words then their middle-income peers (Hart and Risley 1995).  By kindergarten the word gap increases to over 40 million and the average low-income child has experienced only 25 hours of one-on-one reading time while their middle-income peers have had over 1,000 (McQuillan, J. 1998).  This low level of parent-child verbal interaction is one of the key reasons that so many of the five million children in the United States living in low-income families are unprepared for pre-k or kindergarten and enter school significantly behind their middle/higher income peers.  This lack of a language and learning-rich home environment does not just limit the development of children’s language and literacy skills, it impacts their numeracy and social-emotional skills as well, inhibiting all aspects of successful school readiness.  Too many children have not experienced quality verbal interaction with an important adult in their lives.  They have never been read to or explored a book on their own.  They have not been exposed to play and interactive experiences that encourage problem-solving, numeracy skills, and appropriate social-emotional development.  They do not have the language skills they need to successfully interact with their teachers and their classmates.  They may not be able to control their behaviors or emotions as well as other students.  Children who enter school this far behind, are likely to remain behind in first grade, and in third grade, and are more likely than their “ready” peers to drop out.

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