Read your child 5 simple books a day and they’ll hear 1.4 million words by kindergarten

Kids from highly literate households heard a cumulative 1.4 million more words from being read to than children who were never read to.

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Here’s another argument to take screens away from babies and toddlers: reading five books a day to your kid in the years before they enter kindergarten means they’ll have heard 1.4 million more words than kids that were never read to. Mic drop.

That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Lead author and assistant professor of educational studies at Ohio State University Jessica Logan calls it the “million-word gap,” and says it could explain discrepancies in vocabulary and reading advancement.


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The results of the study, which used data from 60 popular children’s books in order to estimate the number of words that children are exposed to when they’re read to, concluded that parents who read one picture book with their children every day exposed them to about 78,000 words a year. Over the 5 years, before they entered kindergarten, researchers estimated that kids from highly literate households (meaning they were read five books a day) heard a cumulative 1.4 million more words from being read to than children who were never read to.

These books aren’t Ivanhoe – think simple board books through their 3rd birthday and picture books after that.

“Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school, said Logan, in a release. “They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.”

Logan’s research was inspired by her earlier work, which found that 25% of children in a national sample were never read to, and another 25% were read to only once or twice a week.

Here’s how many words kids will have heard by their 5th birthday based on how much they were read to:

  • Never read to: 4,662
  • Read to 1-2 times per week: 63,570
  • Read to 3-5 times per week: 169,520
  • Read to daily: 296,660
  • Read to daily (5 books a day): 1,483,300

According to the results of this study, parents who only speak to their children instead of adding reading are doing them a disservice when it comes to literacy. Being read to is different and more important than simply overhearing speech, Logan says.

“This isn’t about everyday communication,” she says. “The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they heard just talking to their parents and others in the home.”


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.