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1.4 million words!

That’s the number of words your child could be missing out on! How does this affect their reading skills? Well, children who struggle with reading are less likely to read and we all know reading is something we have to do daily. Can you imagine being able to do your job or run your home without strong reading skills? The level of frustration would be very high not to mention the limitation you would face growing in your career, business or even social circle.

What is the Million Word Gap?

To understand this concept let’s look at Debbie. From the time Debbie’s Mom found out she was pregnant she did lots of preparing including lots of reading. She came across an article that said by age 5 some children had 1.4 million more words than others. Well she and her husband decided to give her little Debbie the best leg up in life she could. She spoke with not only to Debbie and whenever her little girl asked a question she answered fully but in a way Debbie could understand. She exposed her to new vocabulary through this and they often played fun games that not only taught Debbie skills but also expanded her vocabulary.

When Debbie entered kindergarten, her teacher noticed a few things.

  1. Debbi had an amazing vocabulary for a 5 year old.

  2. She enjoyed learning and often volunteered for tasks around the classroom.

  3. She was a great reader and loved books.

During parent teacher conferences Debbie’s teacher noted these things to her parents and asked what they did at home. Debbie’s Mom shared the article she had read and how it had emphasized the importance of reading at least 5 books per day with young children to avoid the Million Word Gap. She explained that Debbie’s vocabulary was so extensive because she had heard over 1.4 million words from birth to age 5.

What Debbie’s Mom didn’t connect was that she had further improved Debbie’s vocabulary by not only exposing her to the words but by using them in daily life and in their play.

Why does the Million Word Gap happen?

The Ohio State News article Debbie’s Mom would have read calculated  “how many words kids would have heard by the time they were 5 years old: Never read to, 4,662 words; 1-2 times per week, 63,570 words; 3-5 times per week, 169,520 words; daily, 296,660 words; and five books a day, 1,483,300 words” Jeff Grabmeier. The difference is startling and it provides one simple answer to the question of reading development in young children.

In short, this is a result of children not being read to enough.

It comes down to that.

The researcher who conducted the study was truly surprised by the findings, saying “The word gap of more than 1 million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those who were never read to is striking,” (Logan).

How does the Million Word Gap affect Reading Skills?

Children who have a larger vocabulary have an easier time reading. They have had more time to learn the rules of how language works in print and are familiar with so many words that predicting and using context clues is much easier as well so their comprehension is higher than their peers who have not been read to as much.

Best Ways to Avoid the Million Word Gap

  • Schedule bedtime stories and stick to it no matter what…at least for 30 days until it is a habit.


  • Find a great YouTube children’s read aloud channel and have that available for your child when you can’t be there to read during the day. A great channel is Toadstools and Fairy Dust.

  • Download an app that reads to young children. Audible has a variety of children’s books your little one can listen to independently.


  • Visit your local library’s website and check if they have books online for your child to read.


  • Set-up a local book swap with trusted friends and neighbors.


  • Be on the lookout for unusual opportunities for reading such as baking or cooking together or building a birdhouse or some structure following written directions.

The Last Thing You Need Keep in Mind about the Million Word Gap

Though 1.4 million is a big number and can seem impossible it is actually an easy gap to avoid altogether. Knowing this happens is a great thing because it gives parents something solid and simple they can do to support their children’s reading development – simply read 5 books a day. We strive to ensure children get their 5 servings of fruits and vegetable, so do the same with 5 delicious books daily.

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