THE BLOG
10/21/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Talk, Read and Sing to Kids to Close the Word Gap

With a boost from Hillary Clinton last weekend in San Diego, the American Academy of Pediatricians launched the next phase of its campaign to help close the "word gap" between children in high- and low-income families.

The Academy has embraced the work of Too Small to Fail -- a joint initiative from the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, a nonprofit that focuses on the threat of diminished prospects for children and families -- which is an effort to prepare America's youngest children for success. Too Small to Fail's campaign, Talking Is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing, gives parents tools to help close the word gap.

We know that children's brains develop at a dramatic pace during their earliest years. In fact, 80 percent of brain development happens by the age of 3. But research has revealed that, by age 4, children in high-income families have heard about 30 million more words than children in lower-income families. Hearing fewer words translates directly to learning fewer words, and, by age 3, children in higher-income families have double the vocabulary of those living in lower-income families. This disadvantage -- called the word gap -- sets the stage for future disparities in education and even job earnings.

Through our campaign, we are encouraging pediatricians to talk to parents about talking, reading, and singing more often to their young children. This increased engagement helps build strong and healthy parent-child relationships, foster early language skills, and close the word gap.

One would expect the AAP and its members to be deeply involved in support of early childhood development, but this issue has broad appeal. Earlier this week in San Francisco, Hillary Clinton addressed Dreamforce, the annual user and developer conference hosted by Salesforce.com, and some of the 135,000 attendees helped assemble tote bags full of materials for distribution to local parents.

Next month we will launch a pilot program in Oakland, California, through which pediatricians will explain the importance of early brain development and give parents and caregivers the totes assembled at Dreamforce full of helpful materials to take home and use. The bags will include baby clothing and blankets with age-appropriate prompts for talking, reading, and singing. For example, when a parent is changing an infant's diaper, wording on the baby's onesie will remind him or her to "talk about hands and feet." The bag also will include a family resource guide and a CD created by Sesame Street, a book donated by Scholastic, and information on how to receive regular text reminders from Text4baby about the importance of talking, reading, and singing to young children. Also, when parents arrive at Children's Hospital Oakland, they will see creative and family-friendly signs in the lobby, waiting room, and exam room reminding them to talk, read, and sing to their children.

Our children deserve the best chance we can give them to succeed. Research tells us it's simple: Every word counts. In the coming weeks, we will begin helping Oakland's parents -- and ultimately others around the country -- to realize their power to make a difference in their children's lives.