hv_1A UC Berkeley study released last week found that Latino toddlers fall behind white peers in language development by age 2, and by the time they reach preschool age, the vocabularies of Latino children are far smaller. This gap in early language and literacy skills can lead to an achievement gap that persists in school and beyond.

One solution cited by the researchers is to provide effective parenting education and support early in a child’s life and to teach parents how to nurture their children’s language and literacy skills.

Helping parents understand how to be their child’s first teacher is the goal of many programs funded both by First 5 Contra Costa and First 5 commissions throughout the state.

Locally, we’re reaching Latino children early in life and providing parents with information to improve children’s language and literacy skills in programs like:

  • Home visiting programs that encourage parents to talk, read and play with their babies starting at birth.
  • Family literacy preschools that have improved children’s ability to recognize letters and increased the amount of time parents spend reading to their children and visiting the library.
  • First 5 Centers that offer dozens of free early learning and literacy classes every month, including Baby Signs and the Raising a Reader book-lending program.

Last year, nearly 60 percent of children participating in home visiting and First 5 Center programs are Latino. Latino children make up more than 90% of children served in the family literacy preschools, which are designed for children whose parents are enrolled in English as a Second Language classes.

According to the study’s co-author Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and public policy:

“The good news is that we know what works,” he said. “The question is how do we get mom and dad to understand the need to nurture stronger language skills by age 1 and 2 and that parents play a large role in that development?”

Home visiting, family support programs, and access to quality early care and education  are good places to start.