A child’s vocabulary at 2 years is a good predictor of how he or she will do in school, according to a new study. The research, published online Aug. 18 in the journal Child Development, found that two-year-olds who had a large oral vocabulary were better prepared for kindergarten both academically and behaviorally.
“Having a smaller vocabulary even at this young age is predictive of lower kindergarten readiness,” lead author Paul Morgan, PhD, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, told Reuters Health. “From a policy standpoint, our research is supportive of calls to provide high-quality early experiences for children,” he added.
For the study, Morgan and his colleagues analyzed nationally representative data for 8,650 children, asking parents how many of 50 common words their children used when communicating at 24 months. The researchers followed up three years later, asking kindergarten teachers to evaluate the study participants’ behavioral self-regulation, frequency of acting out or anxious behavior. The children were also tested on basic reading and math skills.
The researchers found that the kids with larger vocabularies at age 2 had higher reading and math achievement and exhibited fewer behavioral problems, such as being disruptive, throwing temper tantrums, or being physically aggressive.
In addition, findings showed that children from higher-income families, girls, and those who experienced higher quality parenting had larger oral vocabularies than their peers. Children with low birth weights or from households where the mother had health problems had smaller oral vocabularies.
“Our findings are also consistent with prior work suggesting that parents who are stressed, overburdened, less engaged and who experience less social support may talk, read, or otherwise interact with their children less frequently, resulting in their children acquiring smaller oral vocabularies,” co-author George Farkas, PhD, a professor of education at the University of California, Irvine, said in a university news release.
“Intervention may need to be targeted to 2-year-olds raised in disadvantaged home environments,” Farkas added. Frequent storybook reading and finding opportunities to have conversations are important ways to engage toddlers and boost their vocabulary, the researchers noted.
Claire Vallotton, PhD, a faculty member in human development and family studies at Michigan State University, agreed.
Vallotton, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health that quality, as well as quantity, was important for early childhood development. She suggested that parents watch what their young children looked at, and narrate it for them, even in infancy.
“It’s only when you’re talking about the things that a child is looking at that they learn the words,” she said. She added that storybooks offered a good opportunity for this “parallel talk.”
The authors also suggested interventions that included home visitation programs where nurses would regularly see disadvantaged first-time mothers during and after their pregnancies to help with parenting matters and link them with social services and other support systems. These steps, they say, would play an important role in the school readiness of disadvantaged children.