My oldest son is sixteen and a junior in high school. The other day we sat down with his college guidance counselor for the first time. Between that meeting and next December stretch months of thinking about college: visiting campuses, deciding where to apply, taking standardized tests, and assembling applications.
My reporting and writing on science, health, learning, parenting and other subjects has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American Mind, Parents, and Redbook. Here are some selected articles ranging from my latest work to a few old favorites.
Having regular conversations is the most significant thing you can do for your children’s development. This is the message of Dr. Dana Suskind’s important and clear-eyed new book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.
“No matter the language, the culture, the nuances of vocabulary, or the socioeconomic status, language is the element that helps develop the brain to its optimum potential,” writes Suskind, who is the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative at the University of Chicago.
Since I have also written a book about the importance of language for children’s brains, it’s not surprising that I would champion this one. But this is a particularly opportune moment to be talking about the power of talk.
Will Robeson bounces into the neuroscience lab at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, familiarly calling out to each staff member. He makes his way to a black leather recliner positioned next to a suitcase-sized piece of equipment, with controls and a power supply, that looks like it belongs in a dentist’s office. Above his head, a piece of plastic shaped like a figure eight contains a coil capable of generating a powerful magnetic field.
I barreled up the uneven hillside, through the high grass and stinging nettles. A young Holstein crashed along ahead of me. The cow had ducked under the electrified fence as though it were a piece of string and headed down hill to a patch of untouched green. I had to get her back in the pasture, but she was stubborn and surprisingly fast.
I saw my neighbor on the street yesterday. She said “hello” and I said “hello.” No big deal? Wrong. Hello is a simple word and most of us say it and hear it many times each day. Yet each and every time, those two syllables—or even a simple “beep”—set off a process inside the skull as complicated and remarkable in its sequencing and precision as a Beethoven symphony.
IN THE EAR
The design of the human ear may not be streamlined, but it is effective, transforming sound waves into electrical signals the brain can understand. It is also particularly well suited to the human voice; our keenest hearing is usually in the range required to hear speech.