According to a new study, children using more gestures as toddlers have a good vocabulary and are better prepared for school.
The researchers found that children who convey more meanings with gestures at age 14 months have much larger vocabularies when they enter kindergarten.
Susan-Goldin Meadow, who co-authored the study, said the research showed that the differences particularly favored children from higher-income families with well-educated parents.
During the study, the research team analyzed 50 Chicago-area families from diverse economic backgrounds.
"Vocabulary is a key predictor of school success and is a primary reason why children from low-income families enter school at a greater risk of failure than their peers from advantaged families," said Goldin-Meadow.
They recorded video of children and primary caregivers for 90-minute sessions during ordinary activities at home.
The analysis showed that differences in gesture appeared early among children.
Researchers found that frequent early gesture among children is connected to stronger verbal skills entering kindergarten.
"It is striking that, in the initial stages of language learning when SES (socioeconomic status) differences in children's spoken vocabulary are not yet evident, we see SES differences in child gesture use," Rowe said.
"Children typically do not begin gesturing until around 10 months," she added.
"Thus, SES differences are evident a mere four months, and possibly even sooner, after the onset of child gesture production," she added.
The study also showed that fourteen-month-old children from high-income, well-educated families used gesture to convey an average of 24 different meanings during the 90-minute session, while children from lower-income families conveyed only 13.
Moreover, once in school, students from higher-income families had a comprehension vocabulary of 11 compared to 93 for children from lower-income families.
"Child gesture could play an indirect role in word learning by eliciting timely speech from parents; for example, in response to her child's point at the doll, mother might say, 'yes, that's a doll,' thus providing a word for the object that is the focus of the child's attention," wrote the authors.