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Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children

4.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 858-0000380651
ISBN-10: 1557661979
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Editorial Reviews

Review

...alerts us to how much each person's future intellectual ability hinges upon his or her experience in the first year of life. -- Senator Thomas Daschle

Hart and Risley have condensed a large amount offunctional, practical, and very persuasive data... -- Asha

This establishes a definite, studied link between early childhood experiences and later intellectual development, providing a strong study which focuses on American childhood experiences and which analyzes the strong differences to be found between children at the same age levels. An excellent, thought-provoking study. -- Midwest Book Review

[This book] sheds fresh light on the still ongoing argument over the relative influences of nature and nurture... --Child and Family Behavior Therapy

From the Back Cover

Meaningful Differences establishes a scientifically substantiated link between children's early family experience and their later intellectual growth - a link that exists regardless of a child's race. This compelling story describes the authors' years of research as they search for the roots of intellectual disparity. Hart and Risley examined the daily lives of 1- and 2-year-old children in typical American families. They found staggering contrasts at the extremes of advantage - and within the middle class - in the amount of interaction between parents and children. These differences in the amount of early family experience translate into striking disparities in the children's later vocabulary growth rate, vocabulary use, and IQ test scores - critical measures of an individual's ability to succeed at school and in the workplace. Meaningful Differences, the culmination of Hart and Risley's decades of collaboration, reveals profound effects of environment on development.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. (June 30, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557661979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557661975
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Chance on February 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is a contemporary classic. Published in 1995, in my opinion it remains one of the most important books ever published in the areas of developmental psychology, intelligence, and language development, and it has powerful implications for education.

Perhaps more than any other book, it undermines the nativist views of people like Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker. Nativists argue that cognitive development is largely an automatic process, the result of in-born brain mechanisms; experience makes little difference. What Hart & Risley found was that experience makes a profound difference. Children whose parents provide a rich linguistic environment are far more advanced linguistically and intellectually when they start school, and do far better in school, than children whose parents do not.

The study compares professional, working class and welfare families, so some may assume that the results merely reflect differences in genes: Poor kids don't do so well because the genes they inherit are just not as good. There's no denying that genes play a role in development, but what Hart & Risley found was that the quality and quantity of linguistic interactions, not income, was what predicted outcome. The children who did best were those who heard the most words, were given the most feedback, got the most positive feedback, and got the most complete answers to their questions.

One reviewer, a librarian, complains that the book's language is scholarly and jargony. It's true that this book does not read like a John Updike novel. It is, after all, the description and analysis of a scientific study. But as scholarly books go, this one is a breeze.
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Format: Hardcover
Hart and Risley have created an easy to read volume that speaks readily to parents, policy makers and educators. This book is a must for anyone who truly wants to understand the relationship between the way we interact with children and the evolution of their intellectual development. If you are interested in poverty prevention, early literacy intervention or the impact of family based literacy on childrens' academic success, you will be inspired by the work of Hart Risley.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is one of the by-products of one of the most dedicated efforts to understand variances in the development of language. One of the reviewers of the book states that the work "...is a detective story of the most serious academic kind." Yet the book is written in a manner that would allow it to be required reading for "Parenting 102" if not "Parenting 101". The implications for parenting and public policy are profound
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting read on early childhood development. I think this research has managed to make its way into the occasional media story. I heard a reference to it on NPR once.

The authors constructed a longitudinal study where graduate students spent one hour with families every other week for four years. They observed the quantity and type of words spoken by parents to children from birth to four years of age.

They picked three groups of parents. The first set were professional families. These included professors from the University of Kansas as well as some lawyers and doctors. Then they picked another group of working class families. Finally they picked a group of families that were receiving government benefits ("welfare"). They decided to count the use of the spoken word by parents. Television words did not count. There were 42 families in each group. They cross-tested observers for observer neutrality. Here are a few of the findings:

1) A child in a professional family hears 48 million words by the age of four. A child in a welfare family hears 13 million.
2) A child in a professional family hears 6 positive encouragements for every negative prohibition. A child in a welfare family receives two prohibitions for every positive encouragement.

The impacts show that while socio-economic status was predictive, quantity of words and particularly the ratio of positive to negative were far more significant. The welfare children had an average iq of 75 and the professional children scored around 119. The working class families scored 99. The iqs were roughly the same when they revisited the children at age 19.

Their belief is that both sets of parents were trying to do right by their children.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's some not-so-new news: Poor and rich families talk to their kids differently which may result in why the later group does better academically than the former.

Hart and Risley's book thoroughly investigates what is said in poverty, low SES, professional, and elite families over 10 years (both data compilation and analysis). Most interestingly is the nature of the TYPES of utterances said. The prevalence of directive (i.e. giving orders or chastizement over misbehaviors) dialogue increases as the SES of a family decreases. On the other hand, the prevalence of conversational (i.e. exploration, discussing about things, and problem solving dialogue) talk increases as the SES increases and decreases as SES decreases.

As an early childhood professional, I think it speaks volumes to experts in emergent literacy and parent education. Parents MUST talk to their children as intelligent adults would talk to them--not as babies or in a condescending way--if they are to promote optimal language, literacy, and communication proficiency for later life.
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