Supporting Language and Cognitive Development in Early Head Start: Research to Practice Brief

Publication Date: April 15, 2006


The first 3 years of a child’s life are critically important for language and cognitive development. Studies reveal that children’s early language development sets the stage for later literacy and school success. Yet, children from low-income families often lag behind middle-income peers in language development when they enter school. One seminal study (Hart & Risley, 1995) showed that during the early years, low-income children are exposed to less language in their homes on a daily basis than middle-income children. As a consequence, children living in poverty enter kindergarten with a vocabulary that is one-fourth the size of vocabularies of children from higher-income families. This Research to Practice brief examines how children in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project were faring at three key ages in language and cognitive development and identifies critical early language and literacy experiences that appear to make a difference in children’s development. The brief also suggests ways parents and program staff can positively affect infant and toddler competencies in language and cognitive development.

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