It’s half term, it may be a good thing to help your kids, (including the little ones who are yet in full time education) spend the break wisely.

To help your baby develop a large vocabulary — to give her the tools she’ll need to read, comprehend, and make sense of the world — it’s not just talk that’s important. It’s conversation.

To be sure, parental talk of any kind is a good thing; the number of words that a child hears in infancy and toddlerhood is strongly predictive of future vocabulary growth. (Educators and policymakers have tuned in, launching initiatives that encourage parents to spend more time talking with their babies.)

But for Associate Professor Meredith Rowe, an educational psychologist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the amount of words a child hears is just one factor, and not the most significant, in predicting future vocabulary growth.

In an important 2012 paper [PDF] and in follow-up research [PDF] published just this year, Rowe found that diversity of words is more predictive of future language skills, especially as a baby grows through toddlerhood. And it’s not just using a wide assortment of words that’s important — it’s using complex words, interactive words, and words to tell stories, explain, and imagine.

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