Book Review – Thirty Million Words


If I could only remember the source of the referral, I would shake that person’s hand, or at least electronically elicit the same gratitude.

Thirty Million Words has been one of the most informative and genuine books that I’ve read with regards to engaging with your child. By this, I mean that the true beauty of this book is in it’s simplicity and logic.

Suffice it to say, that there are hundreds and thousands of guides about how to ‘properly’ raise your child, how to maximize the window of ‘sponginess’ of your little one’s mind in their prime, and how to ensure that your baby not only becomes a formidable contributor to the human race, but a leader amongst us.

No pressure, eh?

As I write this blog, I’m in the midst of reading Stephen Camarata’s ‘The Intuitive Parent’, which thus far has taken jabs at the parenting model that perhaps I’m a part of. A recent article in Maclean’s magazine (where I found his book) went even further in criticizing my generation of parents in their article, The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up’.

There are many aspects of the article I agree with, such as restoring the hierarchy of command in the family dynamic; we are not to plead with our children for agreement, or negotiate consensus. Parenting involves discipline, and though right now it’s easy to say with only a 4 month old in tow, but I do plan on being an authoritative figure through my parenting style.

However, the article goes on to address the fact that parents today amass giant libraries of reference guides on how to ‘properly’ raise a child. Subscribing to forums and online newsletters and worst of all, referencing the dreaded Dr. Google. The article assumes that much of this is fed from a heightened need to keep up with the Jones’s by creating unachievable environments that can and will only lead to a path of failure and overburdening our kids.

They quote psychotherapist Katie Hurley, who says “we’ve been conditioned to question ourselves—to constantly look for information to make sure we’re doing it right. Because of that, parents are in a state of learned helplessness.”

In my opinion, there is always a grey area – the place where we don’t go to extremes, but find a happy medium somewhere between inundating our kids in karate-piano-algebra-public speaking classes and letting them lie lethargically on the couch, growing eyes like an old potato.

Since it’s my blog and you’re reading my two cents, let the record show that I whole heartedly encourage caregivers, parents and parents-to-be to get learning! Read, read, and then read some more! I would be hesitant to say that we can be ‘over-informed’ yet at the same time, we do need to be able to sort through the good and the bad.

And with that, let me introduce to you the good.

Good implies that the source of information is reliable, and for that, one need only look at the team behind Thirty Million Words, led by author, Dr. Dana Suskind.

First off, Dr. Suskind is a paediatric otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) who specializes in hearing loss and cochlear implantation and directs the Paediatric Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Feel free to give her a quick google and you can see all of her accolades, which in my opinion make Dr. Suskind a very reliable source of knowledge.

Next, by looking through the TMW team page, you see a slew of other doctors, speech pathologists, and healthcare advocacy professionals. This is a group of experts who not only have scientific basis for their approach, but are also passionate enough to have created a whole movement behind the principles that they’ve painstakingly researched.

Compared to the generic mother of two speaking about her personal experiences with flash cards helping her kids speak by 9 months highlighted in a comments section of an online baby site, I think you can see why I feel the TMW team are a verifiably credible source.

This movement has actually gained a lot of traction lately, with groups within the U.S. educational system expanding to include specialty training guidelines for children aged 0 to 3. A huge focus has now started to shift towards this under-appreciated window of time in our children’s development, thanks in large part to the Thirty Million Words initiative.

Ok, now back to the actual substance of the book.

What Dr. Suskind and team discuss, is the very logical reality that babies and toddlers in the first 3 years of their lives, are little learning machines, with synapses shooting and transmitting data while brains are developing at a very quick rate. They pinpoint for parents and educators, how intrinsic we can be during our child’s development phase through these early years, and then subsequently help give us the tools to develop and optimize these building blocks.

The premise of building blocks was one that I found incredibly interesting. Each smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch that a baby encounters is potentially, the very first time that they’ve experienced it. When presented during such a vital development stage, it helps create the building blocks upon which extended smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and feelings will be formed. The premise is that by introducing these building blocks, especially those surrounding language, more effectively, one can accelerate and improve a child’s ability to develop these senses.

Thirty million words, specifically, is the gap in words that underprivileged children hear in their families versus children from more affluent upbringing, within the first 3 years of their lives. The impact of this resonates throughout an underprivileged child’s life, wherein the absence of these building blocks potentially creates a struggle to thrive equally with their peers.

Once this principle is outlined, TMW introduces three steps in successfully implementing a technique to help bolster language development in this crucial and influential time.

The three key steps are Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns. These ideas seem very straight forward, but you often will catch yourself either ignoring them, or not utilizing them to their fullest potential.

Tuning In is the primary one that I often see ignored. Tuning in doesn’t just mean sitting down and playing with your child, but rather identifying what it is they are doing and exploring that focus further.

Charlee’s 1st Symphony

I often see parents playing with their child and constantly trying to redirect their attention. For example, let’s say little Jimmy is playing with a puzzle. Then mum comes over with a book and says, “Jimmy, do you want to read Dr. Seuss?”.

The intent is to try and relate to your child, but by not tuning in to what little Jimmy is focusing on, ends up being a missed opportunity. The book highlights how in little Jimmy’s mind, having to stop his focus on the puzzle, change direction and refocus on a new item such as a book, is actually counterproductive and a missed development opportunity.

Talk More is simply that – generating conversation. This means asking questions that stimulate thought processes, rather than just yes/no questions which are finite.

This intrinsically feeds into Taking Turns. Once you can develop a conversation, you start to take turns in continuing the dialogue.

These three steps are just a snippet of what this book offers. Thirty Million Words is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it not only for the fact that the outcome is a renewed approach to parenting and educating your children, but also getting insight into how the research was accomplished and the findings revealed.

On top of that, I would even push for this to be one of your first reads, because first off, it could and should define how your interaction with your child develops.

As I mentioned, I’m reading the Intuitive Parent, which so far speaks about a lot of our parenting approaches as coincidentally being intuitive. While this may be the case, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be perfected or in the least, optimized.

It comes back again to the old adage, that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Well, sure, but Thomas Edison famously once said, “There’s a way to do it better… find it!”.

What are your thoughts?

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