Low-income kids face language-learning obstacles at home and at school, a new study contends.
“Children may go from a home with limited physical and psychological resources for learning and language to a school with similar constraints, resulting in a double dose of disadvantage,” said study lead author Susan Neuman.
She is a professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University.
Neuman and her colleagues followed 70 Michigan kindergarteners. Half lived in poor areas in Detroit; the others were from more diverse, working-class communities.
The researchers observed the kindergarteners in their homes and schools. They also gauged the youngsters’ school readiness skills, including vocabulary knowledge, along with letter and word identification.
Though the quality of language that the children were exposed to differed, the quantity did not.
At home, the researchers found, parents in poor neighborhoods used shorter sentences, fewer different words and had lower reading comprehension than parents in working-class neighborhoods.
At school, teachers of kids from poorer neighborhoods tended to oversimplify their language. They used simpler sentences, a more limited vocabulary, and fewer unique word types, the researchers said.
While all the children made advances in language-learning, those in the working-class neighborhoods made greater progress, according to the study.
“Our study suggests that neighborhoods matter and can have a powerful influence on nurturing success or failure,” Neuman said.
“Tragically,” she added, “the children who need the greater opportunity to learn appear to be the least likely to get it.”
To help children overcome early disadvantages, both parents and teachers need to be involved in building language skills, the researchers said.
The study results were
published recently in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association outlines activities to encourage speech and language development.