Susan Goldin-Meadow thinks gestures help children learn

Her research shows that children have bigger vocabularies when they’re raised by parents who actively gesture.

Susan Goldin-Meadow: I think that gestures might help children learn, and in fact encouraging parents to gesture to their children, I think is a good thing.

Susan Goldin-Meadow is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. Goldin-Meadow led research that found that children have bigger vocabularies when they’re raised by parents who actively gesture – point, wave, and nod.

Susan Goldin-Meadow: We’ve looked at children from a wide demographic range, and we found that children at 14 months already look different.

Goldin-Meadow also discovered a connection between gesturing and socioeconomic status, or SES. She and her colleagues videotaped 50 children talking and gesturing with their families, whose education and incomes varied.

Susan Goldin-Meadow: Children from high SES homes gesture more, they produce more different kinds of meanings with their gestures at 14 months than children from low SES homes. Those gestures go on to predict the size of the children’s vocabulary at 54 months, their spoken vocabularies.

Pre-school vocabulary, said Goldin-Meadow, is a key indicator of how successful they’ll be in school.

Susan Goldin-Meadow: And the other interesting thing is that we can trace those gestures in the children back to the way the parents gesture at 14 months. So parents in high SES families tend to produce more different kinds of meanings with their gestures than parents who are from lower SES families.

Gestures don’t have to be anything new for parents to learn, they can just use their hands more when they talk to their kids.

Our thanks to Susan Goldin-Meadow.
Susan Goldin-Meadow is a professor of in the psychology department at the University of Chicago. She is currently the President of the Cognitive Development Society and the editor of the new journal sponsored by the Society for Language Development, Language Learning and Development.

Photo Credit: Stanimire Tomov

Jorge Salazar