Study Finds A Million Word Gap: How Reading Impacts Your Child's Development - Blog

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Study Finds A Million Word Gap: How Reading Impacts Your Child's Development

Published Date: 04/11/19

If you read to your child just five books a day, he or she will have heard about 1.4 MILLION more words than children who were never read to, a new study has found.

1.4 million. That’s a lot of words.

Jessica Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of educational studies at The Ohio State University calls this the “million word gap” and says it could explain differences in both vocabulary and reading development.

While surprising to many of us, a previous study Logan conducted found that in a national sample, about one-quarter of children were never read to, and another quarter were read to only once or twice weekly. That was the inspiration for this study.

Logan said, “The fact that we had so many parents who said they never or seldom read to their kids was pretty shocking to us. We wanted to figure out what that might mean for their kids.”

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

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The Columbus Metropolitan Library collaborated with the researchers in the study. They looked at board books written for infants and toddlers and picture books written for preschoolers, and identified the 100 most circulated.

For the study, 30 books were randomly selected from both lists, and word counts were tallied. On average, board books contained 140 words and picture books had 228 words.

The researchers assumed that children would be read board books until age three, and picture books from ages 3-5. Then then calculated how many words children hear from birth through age 5 at different reading levels.

For families who reported reading no books to their children, Logan and her colleagues assumed that they actually read their children one book every other month.

The results were stunning. This chart shows the results of how many words a child would hear.


the number of words children hear when read to


Logan said, “The word gap of more than 1 million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those who were never read to is striking.”

This vocabulary word gap differs from conversational word gaps found in other studies.

“This isn’t about everyday communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home. The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” she said.

Books also introduce ideas and words that often don’t come up in everyday conversations, like exploring antelopes in Africa or STEM concepts.

“The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” she said.

Additionally, this million plus word gap is likely a conservative estimate. When parents read to their children, they often go on to discuss the books, thus reinforcing vocabulary.

Logan’s study highlights what we already know – reading to your children is the best thing you can do for their development.


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