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Gesturing Improves a Toddler’s Vocabulary

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Susan Goldin-Meadow and Meredith Rowe of University of Chicago have found a link between gesturing and improved vocabulary in toddlers.

We all know that toddlers will gesture long before they form words, such as raising their arms to be picked up.  Gesturing also appears to be a precursor to forming words. Even more interesting was the link between income disparity and vocabulary:

Higher-income parents did gesture more and, more importantly, their children on average produced 25 meanings in gesture during that 90-minute session, compared with an average of 13 among poorer children, they reported in the journal Science.

Then the researchers returned to test vocabulary comprehension at age 4 1/2. The poorer children scored worse, by about 24 points. Researchers blamed mostly socioeconomic status and parents’ speech, but said gesturing contributed, too.

It’s not just that richer parents gesture more, stressed Peggy McCardle of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the work.

“It’s that there’s a greater variety of types of gesture that would signal different types of meaning,” McCardle said. “It sure looks like the kids are learning that and it’s given them kind of a leg-up.”

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