Table

One-minute Excerpts of Parental Language Low in Total Language and Diversity

Maternal Language

Paternal Language

Put your food up here. Like that.

Put your food on the (unintelligible).

All right.

Hmm.

Come on let's cook.

Eggs. Here.

Here, (unintelligible), now you get to play with the next toy. Huh look.

We're gonna cut some pie.

Gonna cut pizza.

Hmm you get to cut the pizza.

Cut the pizza.

Uhhuh.

contrast, the second child produced 36 utterances while engaging with his mother and 20 utterances while engaging with his father. Moreover, the first child was beginning to combine words into simple sentences, whereas the second child did not express any combinatorial speech. Given the bidirectional nature of parent-child conversations, it is plausible that the second child was less talkative due to his parents' low language use, but this does not necessarily mean that the child was less capable in his language. However, further examination of children's Bayley MDI scores of children trends that paralleled these language differences. The child of high-language parents had a Bayley MDI score of 108 (above average), whereas the child of low-language parents received a score of 80 (delayed range), lending support to the idea that these excerpts capture differences in children's language abilities.

Fathers' influence on children's language, as evidenced at this "micro-level" coding of play conversations, also yields strong associations with children's cognitive development more broadly. Because language is fundamental to all virtually all forms of thinking and reasoning, it is unsurprising that fathers' verbal responsiveness relates to toddlers' scores on standardized mental tests such as the Bayley MDI and PPVT. For example, in another study of fathers at play with their 2-year-olds, the focus was on children's cognitive development as measured by their Bayley Mental DI (BSID-II; Bayley, 1993). We asked whether fathers' responsiveness would shift the odds of a child performing in the normal versus delayed range on this standardized test (Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, London, & Cabrera, 2002). Toddlers and fathers were videotaped during play, and fathers were coded on their responsiveness to

Referential Semantic Decontextualized Diversity Language Category

Figure 4.13 Two male children's total Referential, Semantic, and Decontextualized language and communicative Diversity with mothers high and low in language. Diversity refers to the different kinds of speech acts expressed, not the number of utterances.

Referential Semantic Decontextualized Diversity Language Category

Figure 4.13 Two male children's total Referential, Semantic, and Decontextualized language and communicative Diversity with mothers high and low in language. Diversity refers to the different kinds of speech acts expressed, not the number of utterances.

Referential Semantic Decontextualized Diversity Language Category

Figure 4.14 The total Referential, Semantic, and Decontextualized language and communicative Diversity of the same two male children in Figure 4.13 with fathers high and low in language. Diversity refers to the different kinds of speech acts expressed, not the number of utterances.

Referential Semantic Decontextualized Diversity Language Category

Figure 4.14 The total Referential, Semantic, and Decontextualized language and communicative Diversity of the same two male children in Figure 4.13 with fathers high and low in language. Diversity refers to the different kinds of speech acts expressed, not the number of utterances.

children's play and verbal initiatives. Children were independently tested on the Bayley MDI during a separate home visit. Fathers who were highly responsive during play were approximately 5 times more likely to have children who performed within the normal range on the MDI (i.e., as indexed by official cut-offs). In other words, the likelihood that a child would be in need of early intervention was 5 times as great if he/she had a low-responsive father versus a high-responsive father. Moreover, our work with a group of mothers and fathers of 2- and 3-year-olds shows that links from fathers' responsiveness to child Bayley outcomes maintain above the influence of mothers' responsiveness, fathers' education, and fathers' income (Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, & Cabrera, in press).

CHILDREN'S BROADER LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

The research presented to this point underscores the robust associations that exist between parents' language use (in terms of amount, diversity and responsiveness) and children's language milestones and cognitive development. However, parents' language is embedded in a larger learning context and represents only one of several parenting variables that support children's emerging language competencies. In this final section, we briefly discuss ongoing research that aims to elucidate how multiple aspects of children's early learning environments foster children's language and cognitive development, again with a specific focus on understanding patterns of prediction in children from low-income families.

To this end, we have longitudinally examined variation in children's language abilities at 14, 24, and 36 months in relation to three aspects of the learning environment: (1) children's direct engagements with responsive parents; (2) the frequency of children's participation in specific literacy activities (e.g., shared book reading, storytelling, being directly taught ABCs, counting, and so forth); and (3) children's access to age-appropriate learning materials (e.g., books and toys). Extant studies reveal that each of these aspects of the learning environment are foundational to children's language development, emergent literacy, and school readiness (e.g., Bryant & Bradley, 1987; Hart & Risley, 1995; Payne, Whitehurst, & Angell, 1994; Senechal & LeFevre, 2001; Tabors, Roach, & Snow, 2001; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001). However, no studies have explored the three aspects together, precluding a test of whether each explains unique variance in children's language and cognitive outcomes above the other two.

To address this question, we assessed mothers' responsiveness during interactions with their children, probed mothers about the frequency with which they engaged their children in specific learning activities, and asked them about their children's home access to age-appropriate learning materials. We tested whether a specific aspect of the early literacy environment was especially predictive of children's cognitive and language development, or alternatively, if each of the three aspects bore relevance for children's development. In addition, we investigated whether children's experiences at a specific age would be more predictive of outcomes than experiences at other periods in development.

Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that the three aspects of the literacy environment uniquely predicted children's cognitive and language development at 14, 24, and 36 months of age, over and above significant mother and child demographic characteristics. Although the three aspects covaried, they were only weakly to modestly associated with one another, and each related to child outcomes. Together, these experiences accounted for up to 19% of the variance in 14-month measures, 17% of the variance in 24-month measures, and 16% of the variance in 36-month measures. Moreover, literacy experiences at 14, 24, and 36 months each uniquely predicted Bayley MDI and PPVT scores at 36 months. Hence, literacy environments at each age mattered beyond experiences at the other two ages, suggesting a cumulative model of prediction.

To illustrate the magnitude of effects that the literacy environment had on children's language development, the language outcomes of 24- and 36-month-old children at the extremes of experience were compared (see Figures 4.15, 4.16, and 4.17). In these analyses, children were classified into one of two groups: those children who consistently received scores reflecting "insufficient" experiences across all three dimensions of the literacy environment, and those children who consistently received scores reflecting "enriched" experiences across the three dimensions of the literacy environment. As shown, the group of children with consistently insufficient experiences at 24 months produced 36 words on average, whereas those with consistently enriched experiences produced 67 words on average. Similarly, at 36 months, the literacy environment accounted for 15 points on a standardized measure of children's receptive language, such that children with consistently insufficient experiences averaged 78 on the PPVT, whereas those with consistently enriched experiences averaged 93. Finally, at 36 months, the average Bayley scores of children at the extremes of experience differed by nearly 20 points. Children who experienced insufficient literacy environments averaged 82.9 on the Bayley MDI, whereas those with enriched environments averaged 100.7, a difference of over one standard deviation.

Insufficient Enriched

24-Month Quality of Literacy Experiences

Figure 4.15 MacArthur CDI language production at 24 months for children at the extremes of literacy environments.

Insufficient Enriched

Figure 4.16 PPVT receptive language at 36 months for children at the extremes of literacy environments.

Insufficient Enriched

36-Month Quality of Literacy Experiences

Figure 4.16 PPVT receptive language at 36 months for children at the extremes of literacy environments.

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