A gesture training for low-income parents to improve child language development Socioeconomic status (SES) is consistently strongly related to children's early language development, particularly vocabulary development. On average, more educated and advantaged parents have children with greater vocabulary skills and faster vocabulary growth during early childhood than less educated and advantaged parents (Hart &Risley, 1995;Hoff, 2003). SES differences in children's vocabulary are evident as early as the toddler years, widen until age 5, and then level off, resulting in a large average SES vocabulary gap in kindergarten and first grade (Farkas &Beron, 2004). These early differences have long- lasting ramifications as research shows that the SES gap in second, third, and fourth grade reading and mathematics skills, can be explained by the oral language abilities children bring with them to kindergarten (Durham et. al., 2007). Further, and most important for the current proposal, the SES gap in kindergarten vocabulary can be traced all the way back to children's early nonverbal (i.e. gesture) communication during parent-child interactions. Specifically, at age 14 months, children from higher-SES families are gesturing more than their lower-SES peers, and this gesture use is related to later vocabulary skill (Rowe &Goldin- Meadow). Further, the early SES differences in child gesture can be explained by the quantity and quality of parent gesture. Thus, by 14 months of age, children are already socialized to gesture more or less during parent-child interactions and this early nonverbal communication sets them on a higher or lower trajectory in their vocabulary growth across early childhood (Rowe, Raudenbush &Goldin-Meadow, 2012). The purpose of this proposed project is to develop and pilot test a gesture training intervention program with low-income parents. The focus is on everyday communicative gestures, primarily pointing. A home- based educational intervention will be developed and implemented with parents at child age 9-months. Families will be followed longitudinally up to child age 18-months with several visits to the home to determine: 1) if it is possible to boost the quantity and quality of pointing gestures parents offer their pre- verbal children, 2) whether this intervention increases children's gesture use, and 3) whether this intervention increases children's early vocabulary development. Analyses for this pilot study will compare the intervention (n=20) group to a control group (n=20) to determine whether the intervention affects parental communicative gestures with children during structured free-play observations and whether the intervention affects child gesture or vocabulary development via parent communicative input. This work is in line with the mission of the NICHD Center for Research for Mothers and Children, will be instrumental in informing policies designed to improve the early environments of young children from low-SES families, and may potentially help prevent the SES achievement gap from substantiating. !

Public Health Relevance

Determining whether a gesture training intervention with low-income parents can influence their children's gesture use and vocabulary development is relevant to public health because the findings can inform policy and be used to promote children's wellbeing and success in school, especially among low-income children who are at risk for school failure.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Griffin, James
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Harvard University
Schools of Education
United States
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