BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Friday, September 4, 2015

Bea Reviews Thirty Million Words: Building A Child's Brain by Dana Suskind

Publisher: Dutton
Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: 
Challenges: NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge
Buying Links: Amazon* | Book Depository* | OmniLit*iTunes | Barnes & Noble
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Blurb from goodreads:

The founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, Professor Dana Suskind, explains why the most important—and astoundingly simple—thing you can do for your child’s future success in life is to talk to him or her, reveals the recent science behind this truth, and outlines precisely how parents can best put it into practice.

The research is in: Academic achievement begins on the first day of life with the first word said by a cooing mother just after delivery.

A study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley in 1995 found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their fourth birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.

Professor Dana Suskind, MD, learned of this thirty million word gap in the course of her work as a cochlear implant surgeon at University of Chicago Medical School and began a new research program along with her sister-in-law, Beth Suskind, to find the best ways to bridge that gap. The Thirty Million Word Initiative has developed programs for parents to show the kind of parent-child communication that enables optimal neural development and has tested the programs in and around Chicago across demographic groups. They boil down to getting parents to follow the three Ts: Tune in to what your child is doing; Talk more to your child using lots of descriptive words; and Take turns with your child as you engage in conversation. Parents are shown how to make the words they serve up more enriching. For example, instead of telling a child, “Put your shoes on,” one might say instead, “It is time to go out. What do we have to do?” The lab's new five-year longitudinal research program has just received funding so they can further corroborate their results.

The neuroscience of brain plasticity is some of the most valuable and revolutionary medical science being done today. It enables us to think and do better. It is making a difference in the lives of both the old and young.  If you care for children, this landmark book is essential reading.

Bea's Thoughts:

I highlighted so much of this as I was reading that I may as well have highlighted all of it. :D There's a lot of information in here of interest to parents, teachers, and caregivers.While I learned a lot, I was also pleased to find that I already know and use a lot of the information and suggestions contained in the book. The workshops and other trainings I attend to further my knowledge and maintain my state certificate for teaching are more cutting edge than I realized.

The language environment of the child from one to three years of age does more than affect literacy. It affects the core of who we are. And it depends on more than words, it depends on how the words are spoken, the environment in which they are spoken, and the warm, human receptiveness of the parent or caretaker.

The early language environment is critical for a young child's brain development. In order to ensure the optimal brain development of all our children, effective, well-designed support has to be readily available when there is a need. Before this can happen, however, general acceptance of the importance of the early language development has to occur at a population level.

While I initially expected the book's focus to be on language and literacy, the scope, as you can see from the quotes above is much broader. Language affects all areas of cognitive and social/emotional development including math, self-regulation, and the arts to name a few. The ripple effects are enormous. Again, some I knew or could anticipate but there was a lot that was new to me.

The quote below resonated with me, particularly as I have a co-worker who vehemently disagrees. To her, art must be done a certain way and if the child fails to do so, she throws it out and makes them start over. The odds of my persuading her to read this book are minimal, sadly, and even if she did, I'm not sure she's ready for the information it contains.

In the visual arts, there is also no right or wrong. It's what pleases the artist.

The book is solidly based on research, both hard science and soft science, supplemented with anecdotes. Suskind's writing style is dry at times but the topic was fascinating as well as important so I kept reading. I did have to take breaks now and then to rest my brain and absorb what I read. As a result, it took me longer than I expected to read.

I did skim a bit towards the end when Suskind talked about the social changes she sees as necessary to help all parents and caregivers be more effective at bridging the language gap and ensuring all children receive the optimal language environment. I also skipped the extensive footnotes and bibliography but I expect I'll be referring to them many times in the future.

One thing that did surprise me, and may surprise many people, was Suskind's advocacy of what we call "baby talk". Yep, science has shown that the intonation, pitch, and altered words actually help children "parse out sound and commit to the language they'll be using...,"baby talk" actually helps the baby statistician's brain to more easily grasp sounds that are clearly distinct from others, each acoustically 'exaggerated' when compared to adult-directed speech, making them easier to grasp and to learn."

"Thirty Million Words" is a complex, occasionally heavy-handed, but illuminating and useful book for parents, teachers, caregivers, and anyone who takes care of children birth to three years of age.  

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