I just finished reading an engaging National Public Radio (NPR) report about Dana Suskind, MD, a University of Chicago surgeon, learning about her new book, 30 Million Words, Building a Child’s Brain. Dr. Suskind, who notes that we should speak to babies all the time that they are awake — when we play, when we help them with things, when out on walks and whenever else, because it ensures that the best neural development takes place. Baby talk has a huge purpose.
After writing my previous post, Does Digital Life Distort our Conversation Skills? about Sherry Turkle’s new book, I was reminded about the people we see talking on mobile phones while pushing wide awake babies in strollers. But I also pictured myself grabbing a glance at my phone when my baby grandson gets especially engaged with a toy — a time when I should continue to, well, babbling away with him.
30 Million Words is another must read book.
Dr. Suskind began considering babies’ language development while performing cochlear implants — surgically implanting amazing electronic devices that help deaf children (and adults) hear. She wanted to learn more about how infants learn to talk after the surgery, so she identified research that discovered how hearing words is the key to learning them as well as the foundation for conversational skills, reading, and much more.
The NPR article about Dr. Suskind identified a 20-year-old article, The Early Catastrophe: 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, which explains how children who are raised without all sorts of conversation — without lots and lots of baby talk — reach the age of three with fewer conversational experiences and a deficit of millions of unheard words.
Dr. Suskind’s insights, she founded an educational organization, the 30 Million Word Initiative, should be a part of pre-natal medical examinations, clinics, and childbirth classes. Such a simple thing — talking baby talk to an infant — yields all sorts of benefits. Shelly Turkle’s research indicates that digital devices are affecting our ability to practice and fine-tune our conversations. After reading about Dr. Suskind and the 30-Million Words Initiative I’ve been thinking a lot about babies, conversation, and parents’ digital devices.
So why did this article jump out at me?
Well, a few weeks ago I walked my four-month-old grandson to child care. Usually he sleeps during this walk, but I noticed that when I sang songs he stayed awake, so I sang the whole way. Other people passing us must have thought I was crazy. But it was worth it, because he stayed awake for the entire 30 minutes or so, laughing with me, moving his mouth, and babbling like crazy. We weren’t just singing, we were carrying on a conversation, sometimes with words and sometimes with music.
I’m not sure what he was saying, but he knew exactly what he was doing.