gap1“I’ve learned that just playing with my daughter and talking to her more or just narrating my life as I’m going through the house helps us bond. I didn’t know that before,” said Tereesha, a single mother who’s been participating in classes at the West County First 5 Center for the last year.

Tereesha is her child’s first and most important teacher. And thanks to the First 5 Center, she’s relishing this role. But not all children have parents as engaged as Tereesha and that puts them at a serious disadvantage when they start kindergarten.

Research shows that by age four, children in middle and upper class families hear 30 million more words than children in low-income families.  A lack of exposure to words means children enter kindergarten with smaller vocabularies than higher income peers and may indicate a lack of enriching early learning opportunities at their most critical developmental time – their first three years of life.

Reversing what researchers call the “word gap” is a priority for First 5 Contra Costa. Through First 5 Centers, home visiting programs, and Raising a Reader we’re helping provide parents with the tools they need to be their children’s first teachers – to know that reading, talking, playing, and nurturing their children are the best ways to help them learn and grow.

We encourage you to learn more about these services (like the many free classes offered this month at our First 5 Centers) and refer families who may benefit. You can also try these simple tips to actively engage with your children in positive, meaningful ways:

Start a Conversation

Develop your infant’s language skills by talking with him or her often. Not only is language the foundation for your child’s thinking and communication skills, it also helps to nurture bonds of love and trust between parent and child.

  • Encourage your baby to make sounds and be sure to respond.
  • Talk, sing and rhyme to your infant – it helps him or her learn new words.
  • Read daily to your baby and repeat stories to stimulate language and listening.

Make Everyday Life a Learning Opportunity

Whether you’re running errands or driving to school, make the most of everyday opportunities to help your child learn:

  • Involve your child in activities like shopping at the supermarket – learn shapes when choosing fruits and vegetables in the produce section.
  • Point to signs and traffic lights to teach words and colors while you’re driving.
  • When reading together (every day) try to use these interactive reading tips.

Encourage Curiosity and Creativity

Being curious is important because it’s how children learn new ideas. By asking questions and finding answers, kids discover ways to solve problems and learn how the world works.

  • Ask your toddler questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer – this fosters thinking and communication skills.
  • Play with your child and encourage imagination.
  • Try new activities, like gardening or cooking, to stimulate children’s minds.


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