Does the content of mothers' verbal stimulation explain differences in children's development of verbal and nonverbal cognitive skills?

Karen E. Smith, Susan H. Landry, Paul R. Swank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Scopus citations


The present study examined whether mothers' verbal input at 3 years of age that specifies relations between objects, actions, and concepts (scaffolding) related to children's development of verbal and nonverbal cognitive skills from 3 through 6 years of age. We were particularly interested in whether these relations differed for children who varied in their levels of biological risk (full term, n = 114; preterm, n = 198). Mothers' scaffolding when children were 3 years of age occurred on average in about 18% of the interactions observed in everyday situations in the home. Growth-curve modeling revealed that, for all children, scaffolding predicted verbal and nonverbal skills even after controlling for families' socioeconomic status and frequency of maternal stimulation. Scaffolding was more strongly related to preterm as compared to full-term children's growth in nonverbal skills. Preterm children with mothers who used scaffolding more frequently had nonverbal skill development that more closely approximated that of full-term children. However, by 6 years, all children in this predominately low-income sample displayed low cognitive age scores. Experimental studies would be the next step to determine if increasing this type of verbal interaction would foster more optimal outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-49
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of School Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000



  • Biological risk
  • Cognitive development
  • Parenting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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