In Minneapolis preschools and kindergartens, some youngsters start school with more than 10,000 words in their vocabularies — while others know fewer than 2,000. That early educational "gap'' can stay with children throughout their school years and prevent them from reaching their full potential.
That's why Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges' effort to build preschoolers' word power deserves support. Educators and researchers say that significant vocabulary gaps exist between many low-income children and their more-affluent peers. As part of her Cradle to K emphasis, the mayor is launching a campaign to help parents and families talk, read and sing more to their kids.
It may seem unnecessary to call for it: Of course parents talk to their children. But the amount and quality of that talking makes a difference in brain and educational development. Verbal engagement with babies and toddlers builds not only vocabulary, but also the ability to read and learn.
Called Talking=Teaching, Hodges' welcome word-gap campaign involves monitoring how much adults talk to kids and giving tips on vocabulary building through everyday activities, including talking, reading and singing.
The monitoring method was developed by the LENA Research Foundation, a Colorado nonprofit that will provide most of the $200,000 needed to kick off the program. (Hodges wants to include about $50,000 in city funds for the effort.) The materials would be distributed to parents by outside organizations, including the University of Minnesota, the Northside Achievement Zone, Way to Grow and Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
Talking=Teaching is the first and most specific project to come from the mayor's Cradle to K cabinet, which focuses on children under age 3. The panel of experts on preschoolers developed three key goals: that all children will have stable housing, access to high-quality early education, and "healthy starts" to prepare them for early education and literacy.
City government has no direct jurisdiction over the Minneapolis Public Schools, but government and citizens share an interest in producing well-educated students. Helping families provide strong educational foundations for preschoolers is something tangible the city can do to enhance student readiness and help narrow achievement gaps.