Connecticut Families Extra: More Conversation equals more Brain Growth

Connecticut Families

(WTNH) — It’s been called the 30 million-word gap. Researchers have found that children from lower-income backgrounds tend to be exposed to fewer words than their higher-income peers. Now, scientists are researching how kids’ brains respond to words and what families can do to help language development.

Don’t you wonder sometimes what’s going on inside your little one’s head? Developmental cognitive neuroscientist Rachel Romeo can show you. Romeo and her colleagues at MIT study the way young children’s brains respond to language.

Romeo had children lie in an MRI scanner and listen to stories while the machine recorded images of their brain.

Researchers also had kids wear recording devices to measure words and conversations at home. They found it wasn’t the number of words that resulted in positive brain development and higher verbal knowledge, but the amount of back-and-forth conversation.

Related: Fiction fights the 30 million word gap

“You can be a low-income family and hear lots and lots of conversations and your brain development will be right on par with the higher income family,” Romeo said.

Romeo says caregivers should find ways to have these frequent back-and-forth interactions with their childrens.

“You can make faces and blow raspberries at infants. You can ask toddlers questions about their day,” Romeo said.

Lisa Kingsley says she started at birth for her youngest, Caroline.

“Whenever I really heard purposeful noise, I would stop and pretend to respond,” Kingsley said.

Romeo says the study findings suggest early intervention programs that encourage parents to talk interactively with their children, may be able to take advantage of the plasticity of the brain, helping to bridge the word gap.

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