WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A child’s first teachers are his parents and caregivers. While social scientists have studied the impact of a mother’s interactions and conversations on a young child, new research suggests that the way fathers talk during play may also really boost their little one’s language skills.
From the playground to the ballfield, time together is time well spent.
“I try to get him to practice a little bit of soccer, inside, here,” said parent Horacio Ruiz.
It’s time to bond, but these interactions are also the building blocks of early learning. Developmental psychologist Natasha Cabrera, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Maryland studied 74 pairs of fathers and young children from low-income families; watching them interact and play with and without toys.
Cabrera told Ivanhoe, “We found that fathers who are engaged with the kids in these creative, playful ways, children pick up more vocabulary, more words, and they’re able to engage with their fathers linguistically a little better.”
The developmental psychologists found that fathers who engage in creative play at 24 months have children with better vocabulary skills in pre-kindergarten. Cabrera also said earlier studies show moms and dads often communicate differently.
Cabrera explained, “The dad is talking to children as he would adults. We used to think in the olden days that was so insensitive. You know, fathers not adjusting speech to their child. But it turns out that’s actually good for the child.”
Psychologists say parents should encourage pretend play. Ask questions to spark conversation. Overall, researchers say any activity that a child and his parents enjoy together is a great place to start.
Researchers also say dads tend to ask more who, why, where and what questions than moms do, which can promote more sophisticated vocabulary. Cabrera said it’s another reason to remember that dads play a key role in a child’s language development.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.