COVID-19 first lockdown as a window into language acquisition: associations between caregiver-child activities and vocabulary gains

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting closure of daycare centers worldwide, led to unprecedented changes in children’s learning environments. This period of increased time at home with caregivers, with limited access to external sources (e.g., daycares) provides a unique opportunity to examine the associations between the caregiver-child activities and children’s language development. The vocabularies of 1742 children aged 8-36 months across 13 countries and 12 languages were evaluated at the beginning and end of the first lockdown period in their respective countries (from March to September 2020). Children who had less passive screen exposure and whose caregivers read more to them showed larger gains in vocabulary development during lockdown, after controlling for SES and other caregiver-child activities. Children also gained more words than expected (based on normative data) during lockdown; either caregivers were more aware of their child’s development, or vocabulary development benefited from intense caregiver-child interaction during lockdown or both. We discuss these results in the context of the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic and highlight limitations of the study.
Read the full study here: Katushina et al., 2022.