The dynamics of everyday life: Variation and stability in caregiver-child verbal engagement during everyday activities in English

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Child and Adolescent Development

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International Congress of Infant Studies Virtual Congress

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It is well-established that individual differences in the quantity and quality of caregivers' verbal engagement is linked to children's later learning outcomes. But, does the nature of caregiverchild interactions change as a function of activity? Prior studies using standardized settings have demonstrated that, for example, book sharing is associated with increased verbal engagement compared to other everyday activities, such as play (Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991). At the same time, analyses of spontaneous all-day recordings find that book sharing is relatively infrequent and does not occur every day in all families (Gilkerson et al., 2017; Soderstrom & Wittebolle, 2013). More research is needed to understand what caregivers are doing when they engage with their children and how the dynamics of everyday life changes the nature of those interactions. Moreover, few studies have directly compared talk across activities in the same caregivers, i.e., to what extent is verbal engagement stable across caregivers? Here, we investigated naturalistic and spontaneous caregiver-child interactions with 2-year-olds in English- (n=41) and Spanish-speaking (n=41) families from diverse SES backgrounds. We explored variation in quantity (adult word counts, AWC) and quality (conversational turns, CTC) of verbal engagement (1) across activities and (2) across caregivers. For each family, we sampled interactions from day-long LENA recordings, selecting 6 10-minute segments of primarily child-directed speech with the highest AWCs. Coders identified child-centered (books, play, food, routines, unstructured conversation) and adult-centered activities (caregivers engage in their own activities while talking to their child; e.g., chores). We found that the densest hour of talk can occur in several different types of everyday activities in both English- and Spanish-speaking families (Figure 1). In both groups, child-centered activities accounted for approximately 50% of the AWCs in the densest hour, on average, whereas adultcentered activities accounted for 13% in English-speaking families and 18% in Spanish-speaking families. The remaining portion in both groups was comprised of overheard speech. Comparing speech across different activities, AWCs and CTCs per minute were higher during book sharing (English AWC M=63.76, CTC M=3.26; Spanish AWC M=67.49, CTC M=3.87) than all other activities (English AWC Ms = 41.46-46.03; CTC Ms = 2.21-2.76; Spanish AWC Ms = 44.4-49.63, CTC Ms = 2.31-30.01). Finally, we found strikingly high stability in the rank orders of caregivers (Figure 2). That is, caregivers who engaged relatively more in one activity also engaged more during other activities (AWC: English mean r=.65 (rs = .30-.93); Spanish: mean r=.75 (rs = .13-.96); CTC: English mean r=.78 (rs = .49-.94); Spanish: mean r=.61 (rs = .42-.88)). Using day-long recordings, these results provide further evidence that the dynamics of everyday life alters the specific features of learning environments across activities. At the same time, everyday life provides caregivers with many different opportunities to engage in language-rich interactions with their children. Additionally, intra-individual variation is highly stable across caregivers, suggesting that variability is driven by differences across caregivers, rather than activity. In ongoing work, we are transcribing interactions to provide precise estimates of tokens, types, and utterance complexity and relations to child outcomes.