Early Language And Cognitive Development In Lowincome Families

Thus far, emphasis has been on children's early achievements in receptive and productive language, and the facilitative role of parents' verbal responsiveness for these emerging abilities. In addition,

-High Resp

Age in Months

Figure 4.12 Modeling cumulative probability functions for the timing of 50 words: Estimated function for high levels of maternal responding with imitations to children at 13 months (upper 10th percentile) and estimated function for low levels of maternal responding with imitations to children at 4-13 months (lowest 10th percentile).

Age in Months

-High Resp

Figure 4.12 Modeling cumulative probability functions for the timing of 50 words: Estimated function for high levels of maternal responding with imitations to children at 13 months (upper 10th percentile) and estimated function for low levels of maternal responding with imitations to children at 4-13 months (lowest 10th percentile).

most of this work has been conducted with Anglo American children and mothers from middle- to high-socioeconomic status households (as determined by composite scores of parents' income and education). More recently, we have extended work on environmental correlates of children's language development to low-income, ethnically diverse families. Research on the language development of children from the low-income families is particularly important in light of studies that document the adverse consequences of poverty for children's cognitive and educational achievements (e.g., Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999; Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; Hoff, Laursen, & Tardif, 2002). In general, children living in economically disadvantaged households tend to have smaller vocabularies and less-than-optimal language competencies when compared to their more advantaged peers. As one example, children in poverty enter kindergarten with an average lexicon of about 5,000 words in comparison to vocabularies of approximately 20,000 words for children from higher-income families (e.g., Hart & Risley, 1995). These differences are thought to partly be explained by differences in the cognitive stimulation observed in low-income parents (e.g., Evans, 2004) and children's diminished participation in learning activities (e.g., bookreading; Anderson, Teale, & Estrada, 1980; Hart & Risley, 1995; Whitehurst, Arnold, Epstein, Angell, Smith, & Fischel et al., 1994).

Nonetheless there exists great variation in the language of children from low-income families. For example, 18-, 24-, and 36-month-old children living in poverty have MacArthur CDI scores that range from below the 10th to above the 90th percentile, even though their overall scores are lower than those of the normative population (Roberts, Burchinal, & Durham, 1999). Such findings challenge deficit models that emphasize group means at the expense of individual variation. Unsurprisingly, in light of this within-group variation, questions about the language environments of children living in poverty have been at the foreground of applied developmental research.

In response, and as an outgrowth of our earlier work, we have pursued two research directions on the language development of children from low-income families. First, we have begun to document children's language interactions with both their mothers and fathers. What is the role of fathers' language on children's language achievements in low-income households? Do patterns observed in mothers also extend to fathers? Second, we have extended inquiry on parent-child language engagements to incorporate children's broader learning experiences. This latter emphasis takes into consideration the various learning activities that children participate in with their parents (e.g., bookreading, storytelling) as well as the learning materials that are available to children (e.g., books and toys) (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2004).

Language Engagements with Mothers and Fathers

There has been burgeoning attention to fathers' role in children's development over the past 20 years, and a number of large-scale national efforts have been designed to examine the nature, antecedents, and consequences of father involvement in low-income families more specifically (e.g., see Cabrera et al., 2002; Lamb, 2004; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 2002, for reviews). This heightened interest in father involvement stems from a number of social and demographic trends, including women's increased participation in the workforce, the prevalence of single-headed households in low-income families, and the adverse consequences of father absence for children's school readiness, academic performance, and social-emotional regulatory competencies (Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 1999).

Limited resources, unstable employment, and inadequate education often make it difficult for fathers to establish and maintain positive and emotionally supportive relationships with their children (Black et al., 1999; Brophy-Herb et al., 1999; Cochran, 1997; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Garfinkel, McLanahan, & Hanson, 1998; Lerman, 1993; Marsiglio, 1987; McAdoo, 1986, 1988; McLoyd, 1989, 1990; Perloff & Buckner, 1996). These same obstacles also pose practical challenges to researchers who seek to understand the nature and meaning of fathering in economically disadvantaged, ethnically diverse groups (Cabrera et al., 2004; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 2002; Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004). While father "absence" is more prevalent in low-income households on average, over 80% of fathers from low-income households are involved in their young children's lives, seeing their children at least a few times per week if they do not reside with them (Cabrera et al., 2004).

However, relatively little is known about the ways in which present, involved low-income men interact with their young children, and how their engagements affect their children's early language and cognitive development. Merely a handful of studies has investigated fathers' influence in these areas of development (e.g., Black et al., 1999), and our current research addresses this gap.

In one study of 50 children and their mothers and fathers, we focused on children's observed vocabularies at 24 months (Cristofaro, Rodriguez, Baumwell, Tamis-LeMonda, & Nakae, 2004). As noted earlier, by 24 months, most children have experienced a vocabulary spurt and are using words to express a range of meanings. The majority of children are combining words into simple sentences that map to the grammatical structures of their native language. In light of children's language competencies at this age, focus was placed on children's communicative diversity (i.e., the range of meanings that children expressed during play) as well as their overall talkativeness, as indexed by the total number of utterances children expressed during the observation period.

As in past studies, child-mother and child-father dyads were videotaped separately in their residences for 10 minutes of play with standard sets of age-appropriate toys. These play interactions were transcribed and coded for various aspects of child and parent language. Children's speech was classified into 1 of 22 mutually exclusive functions, based on the meanings being expressed by the children (e.g., child labels an object; asks a question; refers to an action, etc.). These language functions could be classified into 3 broader categories: Referential Language (i.e., language in which the child used labels, descriptors, pronouns, or questions to indicate objects and people); Semantic Language (i.e., language in which the child used words that fit grammatical categories, such as "actors," "actions," "objects of action," "patients," "recipients," "locatives," and so forth; Brown, 1973); and Decontextualized Language (i.e., language that referred to nonpresent events or activities, such as using words to "pretend" or to refer to past or future events). In addition, a "Communicative Diversity" score, representing the number of different language functions the child expressed, was computed for each child.

Likewise, both fathers' and mothers' speech acts from the parent-child play sessions were each classified into 1 of 23 mutually exclusive language functions (e.g., labels, descriptions, questions) based on modifications of extant language coding systems that are reliable and valid (e.g., Longobardi, 1992; Camaioni & Longobardi, 1994; Roberts, 2001; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001). These language functions were collapsed into six broader categories, two of which were Referential Language (i.e., language in which the parent used labels, descriptors, pronouns, or questions to indicate objects and people) and Responsive Language (i.e., language that was in specific response to children's verbal overtures—such as imitations, expansions). As for children, each parent's Communicative Diversity was calculated as the number of different language functions that were expressed during the play session, and Total Language was based on parents' number of utterances.

Findings revealed that children expressed similar amounts of language and had equivalent Communicative Diversity scores during play with their fathers as with their mothers. Similarly, children expressed similar levels of Referential and Semantic language during play with both parents, indicating that they were no less likely to talk with their fathers than with their mothers.

Notably, measures of fathers' and mothers' language use yielded similar patterns of prediction to children's language use. First, both mothers' and fathers' Referential Language predicted children's Referential Language. Second, parents' Communicative Diversity was associated with children's Total Language and Communicative Diversity. Finally, both mothers' and fathers' Responsive Language was associated with virtually all measures of children's language. Specifically, Responsive Language predicted children's Total Language, Communicative Diversity, Referential Language, and Semantic Language. Moreover, mothers' and fathers' Responsive Language was associated with measures of children's language after covarying parents' Total Language, suggesting that these forms of language matter above sheer talk. Finally, mothers' and fathers' language each contributed unique variance to children's language above the language of one another, indicating a cumulative model of early language development, in which the contributions of different caregivers to children's language growth are additive. To illustrate the variation that existed in parents' language use, 1-minute excerpts of mothers' and fathers' language during play interactions with their toddlers are presented in Tables 4.2 and 4.3. These excerpts present conversations from two African American families of boys, one in which both parents' Total Language, Communicative Diversity, and Responsive language scores were high (Table 4.2), and the other in which both parents' scores were consistently low (Table 4.3). As indicated in the dialogues in Table 4.2, the mother and father expressed 37 and 38 total utterances, respectively, in the brief, 1-minute segment. The mother and the father each used 7 different language functions during this time. In contrast, Table 4.3 presents the relatively sparse language use by the second mother and father. This child's mother and father expressed 8 and 7 total utterances, respectively. The mother expressed 4 different language functions, and the father expressed a total of 3 different language functions. Thus, these two children, both from low-income backgrounds, experienced a fourfold difference in their sheer exposure to language and over a twofold difference in the range of language functions they heard.

These differences had implications for the children's own language use with their mothers and fathers (see Figures 4.13 and 4.14). Across the 10-minute interaction, the first child expressed a total of 92 utterances while interacting with his mother and 77 utterances while interacting with his father. In

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