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When Tots Point A Lot, Words Will Follow

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Scientists say that in addition to talking to your toddler, pointing, waving bye-bye and other natural gestures can boost a budding vocabulary.

Researchers from the University of Chicago found those tots who could convey more meaning with gestures at age 14 months went on to have a richer vocabulary as they prepared to start kindergarten. The researchers also say whether a family is poor or middle class also plays a role.

Researchers wondered if gesturing also played a role in a serious problem: Children from low-income families start school with smaller vocabularies than their better-off classmates. Kindergarten vocabulary is a predicter of how well youngsters ultimately fare in school.

One big key to a child’s vocabulary is how their parents talked to them from your-babyhood on. Previous research has shown that higher-income, better-educated parents tend to talk and read more to small children, and to use more varied vocabulary and complex syntax.

To test their theory, researchers visited the home of 50 Chicago-area families of varying socioeconomic status who had 14-month-olds. They videotaped for 90 minutes to count both parents’ and childrens’ words and gestures. They also counted whether children made gestures with specific meaning.

Researchers found a income gap with gesturing even in toddlerhood, when children speak fewer words. The researchers then returned to test vocabulary comprehension at age four. The poorer children scored worse, by about 24 points. Researchers blamed mostly socioeconomic status and parents’ speech, but said gesturing contributed too.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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