Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Parental Language and Learning Directed to the Young Child

Kapengut, D., Noble, K.G. (2020) Parental Language and Learning Directed to the Young Child. The Future of Children, 30(2), 71-92.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Early Literacy

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Brain/Neurocognitive , Child Development (general) , Home Language/Literacy/Learning Environment , Language and Literacy Development , Parent-Child Relationships/Interactions , School Readiness and Educational Outcomes


In this article, Dina Kapengut and Kimberly Noble explore the intersection of neuroscience and developmental psychology to explain how language experiences in the home, and the home learning environment more broadly, shape young children’s brains and, ultimately, their developmental and academic outcomes.


Home learning environment (HLE) and language experiences.

outcomes evaluated

Children's brains and developmental/academic outcomes.


Topics Discussed: The importance of the home learning environment; Parent-child communication and the home learning environment; Children benefit from exposure to frequent, varied, and complex adult speech; Literacy activities and the home learning environment; Parental engagement in the home learning environment; Among children in lower-SES households, a sensitive parenting-or the presence of a supportive caregiver-has consistently been shown to promote more resilient long-term outcomes; Learning materials in the home learning environment; Children's language experiences and the developing brain; Reciprocal adult-child interactions seem to be especially important for language development, representing a cornerstone of children's language-related neurobiological development; Parent-directed interventions.




Brain plasticity during childhood makes the brain particularly sensitive to environmental influence. Because socioeconomic inequality is associated with variation in environmental exposures and experiences that are particularly powerful in predicting children's outcomes, the authors write, children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at a profoundly increased risk for negative physical, socioemotional, cognitive, and academic outcomes. This harmful pattern emerges early, compounds over time, and persists into adulthood. Fortunately, a number of interventions show promise for helping parents improve the home learning environment. Kapengut and Noble highlight several evidence-based programs, most of which focus on the concept of "language nutrition"--a term created by pediatricians to explain to caregivers that exposure to language that's rich in quality and quantity and delivered in the context of social interactions is crucial for children's development and health. They also note the limitations of existing programs and of the research behind them, and they suggest where policy makers, practitioners, and researchers could look to narrow socioeconomic-related differences in home learning environments.


Research clearly shows that the early home language environment, and parents in particular, form the foundation of children’s language development. The integration of neuroscience with developmental psychology theories has helped us understand the long-lasting effects of how parents shape the home learning environment and how they communicate with their children. Research findings support a social-relational approach by which caregiver-child interactions—the most pervasive and potent relational experiences of childhood—can be seen as a primary mechanism behind experience driven differences in children’s neural development and academic readiness. In short, the way caregivers communicate with children affects children’s developmental outcomes. Given the evidence that attuned and responsive care promotes optimal development, we need to explore the links between caregivers’ interactions with children and children’s subsequent brain development. Interventions promoting child language input must focus on talking, reading, and labeling objects and emotions early in life...The policy and education sectors have made strides in promoting parents’ reading and talking with school-age children; now we should further encourage such practices with infants and toddlers. When it comes to policy, it will be important to narrow socioeconomic-related differences in home learning environments—for instance, by making books, toys, and other learning materials more accessible in the home, beginning in infancy. Other supports could include large-scale parent education programs and advocacy interventions through platforms that families already interact with, including primary care, early childcare, and home visiting. Such programs could further impart the message that parents construct a child’s home learning environment and are therefore the principal agents of developmental change in their children’s lives.


Not discussed.