4 Educators Birth a Smart Idea; Follow their Advice and Your Kid Might Be Smarter, Too

Words matter. The more of them children hear by the time they’re 3, the better they’ll do in school and life, research shows. "You have to do the language dance," says one of the cofounders of Simply Smart Kids.

From left, Berna Ravitz, Susan Coon, Stacey Sharpe Mollison and Diane Hanaway founded Simply Smart Kids, which offers strategies to help parents improve their children's language and literacy skills. (Photo: SimplySmartKids.com
From left, Berna Ravitz, Susan Coon, Stacey Sharpe Mollison and Diane Hanaway founded Simply Smart Kids, which offers strategies to help parents improve their children's language and literacy skills. (Photo: SimplySmartKids.com

Four current and retired Farmington educators have come up with a plan that’s “Simply Smart.”

And if parents apply the strategies in Simply Smart Kids, a business that coaches them on how to increase both the quantity and quality of their conversations with their kids, their children might be smarter, too, WXYZ (ABC Channel 7) reports.

The four women – Stacey Sharpe Mollison, Susan Coon, Diane Hanaway and Berna Ravitz – raised smart kids who had their pick of colleges because their parents recognized how important it was to develop language and literacy skills at a young age.

But they saw a disturbing pattern developing – the most academically successful students entered school with rich vocabularies, spoke in complex sentence and had a firm understanding of linguistic concepts, according to the Simply Smart Kids web site.

On the other end of the spectrum were incoming kindergartners with weak language skills and behavioral and attention problems. After years of struggling, many of them simply gave up and dropped out.

“You have kids who are really strong, language, vocabulary and you have kids who aren’t and you have this gap,” Mollison, a teacher at Forest Elementary and president of the company, told the TV station. “Well, that gap doesn’t close and that gap over time just exponentially grows and gets bigger and bigger.”

Read more about the fallacy of closing the gap after age 3 >>>

Mollison and her partners in Simply Smart Kids were encouraged by research showing a child’s cognitive development is heavily dependent on parents’ verbal interactions.

Research shows that by the time they are 3, kids who have heard the most words spoken to them do better in school and later in life. The total number of words they’ve heard, not the variety, is what makes the biggest difference.

'Intentional Talk' is the Key

They key, they say, is to go beyond the mundane and necessary talk – “Get down!”, “Come here!” and “No!” – and use more intentional talk.

The more intentional talk – “Look at those colorful leaves falling off the trees,” for example – the better, they say. Its sole purpose is to strengthen an emotional bond with children and nurture brain development.

“You have to do the language dance,” said Coon, a speech pathologist at Wood Creek Elementary, told the TV station “You can’t just talk when you have to talk.”

It became apparent to the four women that schools could only do so much and that children’s first teachers are their parents. That’s when the seeds for Simply Smart Kids were planted.

Their company that coaches parents on how to increase children’s language and literacy skills from birth to age 5 through a strategies known as “Power Tools.”

“It’s not about sitting down with books, and paper and flashcards, it’s about a parent’s language being coached and used when you’re riding in the car, when you’re sitting at the table, when you’re in the grocery store, all times of the day,” Mollison  said in the interview with WXYZ.

'Smarty Bus' Will Take Program to Detroit 

The company is currently earmarking proceeds from its sales for a “Smarty Bus,” a refurbished Airstream camper that will travel to Detroit neighborhoods to offer free literacy-related materials and services for families. Employees will volunteer their time to work with parents and their children to increase literacy skills.

They’ll also provide free consultation with other schools and nonprofits to develop a curriculum to meet the specialized needs of  their communities.

To learn more or purchase the instructional videos, go to SimplySmartKids.com.

Teresa Mask April 02, 2014 at 04:52 PM
Best advice I got as a new mom was not to always talk "baby" to the baby. This is good stuff!
Mary J. Buchan April 03, 2014 at 08:21 AM
Canadian research on pre-school education indicates that children from poorly educated families hear about 29 words per hour. Children from well educated families hear over 1,000 words in the same time period. One of the tragic results for the first group is a lack of vocabulary to express feelings, thus, more violence, depression, acting out. Unfortunately, today's children have to compete with cell phones for their parents' attention. Hopefully, Simply Smart Kids will be wildly successful.


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