There’s enough brain-rotting stimuli within your child’s reach that any parent should take note when hearing of alternatives that have the opposite effect. Substantially boosting a child’s brain development is a big thought, and that’s what researchers from Harvard and MIT delivered in a 2018 study, published in Psychological Science.
The study involved lots of MRI scans and two days of constantly tape-recording 4- to 6-year-old children. What was the revelation uncovered, the key to massive brain development for children?
Don’t just talk to your child, talk with them.
The study showed that engaging your child in conversation (versus just flooding them with exposure to words) is critical to language and brain development, the underpinnings of communication, which is pivotal for a child’s ultimate success as an adult.
As senior author of the study and MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences John Gabrieli told MIT News:
The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.
The MRI scans allowed the researchers to see the brain’s robust actual response to an increased number of conversational turns. And here’s the amazing part: The number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores on standardized tests of language skill, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.
Not to be missed, the correlation between conversational turns and language and brain development was much stronger than between language and brain development and mere exposure to substantially more words.
Researchers behind the study said that there is still a common misperception based on a landmark 1995 study that showed a 30 million-word gap between kids from higher-income families versus lower-income families. That study started a “words race,” the belief that just exposing children to as many words as possible was key for brain development. This resulted in parents dropping kids in front of TVs for hours on end or talking to them all day long, when all along, it’s been about getting the child to actively participate in, not just actively listen to, conversation.
According to MIT News, the researchers believe interactive conversation gives children “more of an opportunity to practice their communication skills, including the ability to understand what another person is trying to say and to respond in an appropriate way.”
A great way to facilitate interactive conversations is to engage your child in topics they’re interested in, ask them lots of open-ended questions, and respond accordingly to their responses.
So keep conversation interactive and you’ll keep their intelligence and success expanding along with their word count.