Thirty Million Words for your kids: Tune in, talk more, take turns |

Thirty Million Words for your kids: Tune in, talk more, take turns

TRUCKEE, Calif. — In my last column, I introduced the book “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain-Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns” by Dana Suskind, MD.

It is based upon research that children who heard more words before their fourth birthday were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores.

Suskind developed three Ts to help alleviate the thirty million word gap: tune in, talk more, and take turns. Basically, be present, interactive, and conversational with children, utilizing a rich vocabulary in the process.

I spend most of my work day in the children’s wing of the Truckee Library, and I am happy to report that I consistently overhear this high quality interaction between parent and child, caregiver and child, and teacher and child, on a daily basis.

I don’t know if it’s a self-selected category of children who are fortunate enough to spend time in the library with adults who clearly value literacy and intuitively know how to interact lovingly and effectively. But I would like to think that it’s also occurring at the park, in the grocery store, and most importantly, at home.

Suskind offers specific ways to put the three Ts in action, with regard to language, math, music, and visual arts.  

She advocates reading books with your child from birth onward, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014. I remember the joy of sharing books with my baby daughter while she was in her aware, yet pre-mobile state, reading “Are You My Mother?” lying next to each other in bed every morning.

I also recall the frustration just a few months later when she could crawl or even walk away. Keep in mind that the prerequisite for successful reading to a child is not a quiet and stationary child who always listens intently. Don’t give up. My wiggly toddler has somehow grown up into a 19-year-old, home from her first year of college, who now devours Dostoevsky for fun.

Everyday counting is another way to put the three Ts in action. It can be as simple as counting your baby’s toes during a diaper change, counting each piece of cheese on a toddler’s plate, or asking a preschooler to count the steps as she or he climbs the stairs.

The book also covers mathematical concepts beyond counting, such as geometry (the kitchen door is a rectangle, the dinner plate is a circle, the picture frame is a square, etc.), measurement (length, width, height, and speed through the lens of comparison), and patterns.

Music also helps develop a child’s brain, by stimulating movement, building listening skills and strengthening neural pathways to the brain that are responsible for abstract thinking and empathy. It provides a creative outlet for expressing thoughts and feelings and encourages imaginative thinking.

Our story times at the Truckee Library for babies and toddlers consists primarily of singing, songs and music, while the actual book sharing portion of the program is ten minutes or less.

For preschool story times, the book-sharing portion is slightly greater than the music portion as the older children start to develop a longer attention span for the spoken word, but music still plays a prominent role.

The visual arts, including painting, drawing, and sculpting, are also a great way to implement the three Ts. In visual arts, there is no right or wrong: it’s what pleases the artist. Studies affirm that children who are involved regularly in art do better in reading and self-regulation as well.

In the final installment of this series, I will examine the Fourth T: technology. Friend or foe? Stay tuned to find out.

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit

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