If you’re like 90% of Americans, you’re scratching your head right now and saying, “What is the Word Gap?”
The Word Gap is the “gap” in vocabulary between rich and poor. Research has indicated that kids from lower socioeconomic families may hear as many as 30 million fewer words by the time they’re 4 years old than kids from more privileged families, translating to a gap of 400-700 words in their vocabularies. Because young children learn by hearing, you can’t learn what you don’t hear.
When you consider that vocabulary is the single best predictor of success in school and in life, it’s easy to see why disadvantaged kids who know fewer words at kindergarten tend to start behind. And studies show that kids who start behind tend to stay behind.
For the most part, work on closing the Word Gap has been research-based, federally funded programs. As a result, we know a lot about what causes the Word Gap; we know much less about what to do about it.
As the founder of a digital media start-up and something of a mission freak, I asked myself, “What can we do to help?”
No matter how much we analyzed the problem, we kept coming back to the same conclusion: “400-700 words is a lot but it’s not an insurmountable number.” What we need to do is develop a low cost, highly scalable product that kids love and that is easy-to-implement for busy parents and teachers. We needed to make it fun so that it was as entertaining as it was educational.
We settled on an idea we called Big Word Club, a digital learning program that uses books, songs, animation and dance to teach preschool and elementary school kids one new “BIG” word every day of the school year—that’s 180 new words every year.
How do you close the Word Gap in America? In the same way that you eat an elephant (one bite at a time), we believe you do it one word and one day at a time.