Facts spelt out in building blocks

Facts, Statistics and Children’s Early Language


Mary Hartshorne, Director of Impact at I CAN, discusses how increased public awareness of the facts about children’s early language has benefited parents and carers. 

Some facts and statistics stick in your mind, don’t they? Many of mine are food related:

  • Eat five fruit and veg a day!
  • You burn more calories eating a stick of celery than you gain
  • In 1972, a Mars Bar cost 5p

However, facts about children’s speech and language have long been absent from public consciousness. Only recently have startling facts about children’s early language hit the headlines: 

  • A ‘30 million word gap’ exists between children in disadvantaged communities and their peers
  • Children’s language at age 2 predicts reading, maths and writing ability when they start school
  • Vocabulary at age 5 can predict how well a child does in exams at the end of school, and even their longer term outcomes.

In fact, we have known about the importance of children’s early language for a long time, but last July, Damien Hinds made a pledge to halve the number of children starting school with poor language over the next ten years. As a result, the ‘word gap’ became much more widely known, prompting a surge in local and national initiatives.

Another key fact that I heard at a conference some years ago now has stuck in my mind:

15% – the amount of their time that children spend in school.

Calculation of the amount of time children spend at school

They spend so much more time at home. The conference was about the role of families for school-aged children, stressing the key role parents can play. For very young children, the role parents play is even more critical, and especially so for children’s early language.

This isn’t just based on a whim, the evidence is there. The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project found that what parents and carers do makes a real difference to children’s development; activities such as reading to children, teaching songs, taking them on visits and creating regular opportunities to play with friends at home were linked to improved learning and interaction skills.

More recently, a team from The LuCiD centre for early language development found that the way in which parents speak with their children can predict later language outcomes.

In our survey as part of the Bercow: Ten Years On review, 77% of parents who were worried about their child’s speech and language difficulties felt that the information they needed was either not available or difficult to find.  It’s great, therefore, to see more widespread awareness and information about how families can support their children’s communication.

National campaigns such as the National Literacy Trust’s Small Talk, the BBC’s Tiny Happy People, or the Department for Education’s Chat, Play, Read are providing much-needed information to parents and carers. Locally, there are many examples of excellent information and resources, for example in Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Stoke or Worcestershire.

Don’t forget I CAN’s Talking Point website – a one stop shop of really practical information with an online tool for parents to check out their child’s early talking, listening and understanding.

Can we expect to see many more facts about children’s language in common usage? I certainly hope so!

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