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Discussion: Week 4: Possible Effects of Poverty on Young Children’s Language and Literacy Development

Imagine that there are two 4-year-old girls standing in front of you. One girl, whom you might assume to be from a more economically affluent home, has hair that cascades down in neat curls, a dress ablaze with bright colors, and a new princess lunchbox in her hand. The other girl appears a bit unkempt, with mismatched socks and a sweet, yet sleepy, smile. Without hearing either girl speak, which might you select as the one with a greater vocabulary? Why?
Like most people, you might gravitate toward the child who appears to be from the more economically affluent home. Although this choice might seem stereotypical, this selection does mirror findings from research studies that have linked vocabulary development and skill statistically with economic background. For example, one study found that by 3 years of age, there was a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and the poorest families (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder, 2013). What is the reason for this gap? How can the daily contrasts between each environment affect the ability to acquire and develop language?

Simply put, language is derived largely from parental support and diverse experiences. Because of a variety of factors, children in low income environments generally do not have the variety of experiences that those in higher income families have, nor are they exposed to as rich a speaking and reading vocabulary. Consider again the two children. How might their mornings have been different? For example, if the first girl’s mother spent time doing her daughter’s hair, how might she have been talking to and supporting her daughter’s literacy at the same time? And if the second girl put on her own socks, what language opportunities might her mother have missed while she was nervously gathering enough change for bus fare and her daughter’s lunch? As the second mother worked to provide, she might have felt she had less opportunity to engage her daughter in child-directed speech, which is the case for many children in low income environments.

In this Discussion, you explore the possible effects of poverty on young children’s language and literacy development.

To prepare
Review the Roseberry-McKibbin (2012) article in the Learning Resources and reflect on the statistics that highlight the effects of poverty on early language experiences. Then, select one of the following scenarios as the focus of your Discussion posting.

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