What’s the big deal with talking?

” Isn’t talking to your child kind of…well, simple? Don’t all parents do this?”

Parent-child talk isn’t a new idea, but the power of parent-child talk doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Armed with a little information, parents can proactively help their children learn more–through talk.

Two reasons why talk changes the way young children learn:

  1. Brain architecture
  2. Background knowledge

Brain Architecture

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, brain architecture includes the billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain. This process builds the foundation for later learning:

The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through a process that begins early in life and continues into adulthood. Simpler circuits come first and more complex brain circuits build on them later. Genes provide the basic blueprint, but experiences influence how or whether genes are expressed. Together, they shape the quality of brain architecture and establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health, and behavior that follow. Plasticity, or the ability for the brain to reorganize and adapt, is greatest in the first years of life and decreases with age.

So genes aren’t everything. Experiences count. The back and forth interactions of parent-child talk can influence how genes are expressed in brain architecture. More from the Center on the Developing Child:

The interactions of genes and experience shape the developing brain. Although genes provide the blueprint for the formation of brain circuits, these circuits are reinforced by repeated use. A major ingredient in this developmental process is the serve and return interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family or community.

Good news for parents: parent-child talk helps to build a brain that is ready to learn. Pretty exciting to know that parents can influence the building of a brain!

Background Knowledge

From toddlers to adults, having some background knowledge on a subject helps us learn more. New knowledge connects to existing knowledge and understanding grows.  Without enough background knowledge a new experience may have less meaning, or even no meaning.

Looking under the hood of a car would be pretty meaningless for me. I have no background knowledge to help me make sense of what I’m seeing. (Sad, but true!)

Two children in the same class at school may have different reactions to a lesson about seed germination, depending on what they already know.

First child: Oh, so that’s how that works.

Second child: What’s she talking about? How long till lunch?

Children with a wide bank of background knowledge have an easier time learning more. Having some information on a topic helps children remember and use new information. When exposure to new experiences or information assumes prior knowledge that isn’t there, a learning opportunity may be lost.

More good news for parents: Parents can strengthen their children’s readiness to learn by having conversations that add knowledge on a wide range of topics.

So is talking to children important? Yes. Parents have the power to influence the building of strong brain architecture and background knowledge needed to make learning connections, all through quality conversations. Parent-child talk IS a big deal!

Photo by kourtlynlott

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