Researchers at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley have released results of a study finding that while Latino and white babies have similar language and cognitive skills at 9 months of age, a large gap in those abilities forms between the two groups by age 2.
Education and social police professor Bruce Fuller and a team of researchers observed 4,550 white and Mexican-American children. Groups of nine-month olds were tested for their ability to understand words and manipulate objects. Researchers discovered that the children from immigrant families had the same level of social and emotional skills as the white children studied. Those children were tested once again when they were two years old, this time looking at their memory, vocabulary and problem solving skills.
Findings of the report, Differing Cognitive Trajectories of Mexican American Toddlers: The Role of Class, Nativity and Maternal Practices, suggest that 80% of Mexican-American children studied were three to four times behind their white peers by the time the children reached two years of age. In addition, children of immigrant mothers were found to typically lag even further behind children of Mexican-American parents.
Researchers suggest one reason for this could be that Latino parents do not typically encourage their children to speak at an early age. Only 28% of Latino mothers reported reading to their children on a daily basis in comparison to 59% of white mothers. White mothers were found to offer their children more praise and encouragement, reports Susan Frey for EdSource.
However, Fuller stressed that this does not mean those parents are any less nurturing or caring.
“But what the new findings show,” says Fuller, “is that a lot of that warm parenting is not necessarily infused with rich language, with questioning kids, with giving kids cognitive challenges.”
While white mothers began to work on pre-literacy skills with their children around the age of 2, Latino mothers, on average, were found to wait until their children were about 4-5 years old, writes Claudio Sanchez for NPR. For example, white mothers were found to be more likely to ask their young children questions and ask them to express their feelings in words. Fuller said the approach “is more embedded in the white, middle-class experience than in low-income, Mexican-American communities.”
Interestingly, the study also discovered that Mexican-American children were likely to show an increased growth if their mothers worked outside the home.
“Mothers working outside the home are exposed to more middle-class forms of parenting,” Fuller says. “They’re talking with fellow workers about how they question their kids, how they introduce kids to educational TV and digital media.”
Fuller suggests that in order to close the gaps, children need to be helped before Kindergarten through home visits.
“Extending quality pre-K is one piece of the puzzle. But our new findings reveal how gaps in early language and preliteracy skills open up in toddlerhood, long before children enter preschool,” Fuller said.