In a world full of screens, many parents try to help their kids get ahead with technology, but research suggests that simply spending time talking to children at an early age could make the biggest difference.
It's often said that children are like sponges, and research shows that talking with children regularly from the time they are born until age three is likely to improve their IQ and performance later in school.
Shane Lobitz talks to his son, Brooks, on the regular.
"Started off with 'momma' and 'dada,'" Lobitz recalled.
In fact, Lobitz said he's been chatting it up with his baby boy since he was born.
"You can see a light bulb turn on," he said. "It's amazing."
Because of that, Lobitz believes his son is way ahead of the curb.
"He said 'I'm done,' with his food at one year and one week," Lobitz told FOX 9 News.
Jeremy Sims is employing the same strategy.
"They look at what I do. They look at what I say and repeat it," Sims said.
Both fathers practice and preach the power of talking to their babies, and researchers are backing the benefits by reporting that a child's exposure to spoken language -- even the much-ridiculed baby-talk -- helps children learn.
"Face to face, you have what their face looks like, you have the sound of their voice, their intonation," explained Maria Sera, a child development professor at the University of Minnesota.
According to Sera, the study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley is gaining a lot of focus because it also addresses the learning gap between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The study found that children on welfare heard about 600 words per hour, working-class children heard 1,200, and children of professional parents heard 2,100.
"Parents who are making less money have more jobs and their lives are more difficult," Sera explained. "They may be dealing with more things; they may have less quality time to spend with their kids."
Yet, Sera cautions that there is no definitive answer as to why more affluent and educated parents speak more to their children than poorer, less-educated parents do. She also questions the early-development timeline some people feel compelled to adhere to.
"There's a misconception that there's this magical window that closes at the age of three," she said. "I don't think the evidence suggests that at all."
Instead, Sera encourages parents who did not talk with their children much at an early age to try to play catch-up.
"Hopefully, just informing parents -- I think -- would make a difference," she said.
A related study also found that lower-income mothers also tend to depend on friends and relatives for parenting advice who may not be up-to-speed on the latest data as opposed to consulting a pediatrician or books.
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