ORLANDO, Florida — A child's first teachers are their parents and caregivers. Social scientists have studied the impact of a mother's interactions and conversations on a young child, but there is new research that looks at the role fathers play. The way a father talks during playtime may also really boost their little one's language skills. From the playground to the ball field, time together is time well-spent for Horacio Ruiz, a father of soccer-loving boys.
"I try to make [my son] practice a little bit of soccer inside [the house]," said Ruiz.
The playtime is good bonding time, but the interactions are also the building blocks of early learning.
Natasha Cabrera and her colleagues at the University of Maryland studied 74 pairs of fathers and young children from low-incoming families by watching them interact and play without toys.
"We found that fathers who are engaged with the kids in these creative, playful ways, children pick up more vocabulary, more words and they're able to engage with their fathers linguistically a little better," said Natasha Cabrera, PhD Developmental Psychologist University of Maryland.
The developmental psychologists found that fathers who engage in creative play at 24-months have children with better vocabulary skills in pre-kindergarten.
Dr. Cabrera also says earlier studies show moms and dads often communicate differently.
"The dad is actually talking to children as he would talk to adults. We used to think in the olden days that was so insensitive," said Dr. Cabrera. "You know, fathers not adjusting speech to their child, but it turns out that's actually good for the child."
Psychologists say parents should encourage pretend play. Ask questions to spark conversation. Overall, researchers say any activity that a child and his parents enjoy together is a great place to start.
Researchers also say dads tend to ask more who, why, where and what questions compared to moms, which can promote more a sophisticated vocabulary.