Data-Minded Dad Tracks Baby's Growing Vocabulary With Cool Charts

Jon Jivan plotted his son's first words and shared the data on Reddit.

When Jon Jivan’s son Elliot started talking, the dad decided to track his progress in a creative way. He created a series of charts to document his baby’s first words, from “dada” to “kitty” to “cookie.”

Now that Elliot is 19 month old, his vocabulary has surpassed 100 words. Jon posted his first word charts on Reddit in the dataisbeautiful subreddit, where they quickly reached the front page.

”All words recorded were said in context (not simply a parroting of sounds) and had to be witnessed by both myself and my wife for confirmation,” Jon explained in a follow-up comment on Reddit. The dad tracked Elliot’s words in Google Sheets and generated the charts with a program called Tableau Public.

“I did not go by perfect pronunciation, but it had to be about 75 percent there,” he wrote on Reddit, noting that the system was a bit subjective. “There were many words I knew he was saying, but another person would likely not understand, even in context. For example, last night he was saying something that sounded like ‘mayma’ but he meant ‘banana.’ I would not count a word like this. But ‘eh-bo’ for ‘elbow’ was close enough, so it counted.

Jon plans to track Elliot’s vocabulary until his second birthday.

"He’s saying 'kitty' in this picture," Jon told HuffPost.
Jon Jivan
"He’s saying 'kitty' in this picture," Jon told HuffPost.

“I hope people realize how incredible it is that children can learn as quickly as they do,” Jon told The Huffington Post. “I think the workings of the human brain is incredibly cool. We start with nothing as infants and during early childhood our brains soak up an unbelievable amount of information at a snow-balling pace.”

Some commenters on Reddit referred the dad to studies that suggest children typically know 20 words by 18 months and 50 words by the age of 2. Jon found that Elliot’s chart lined up nicely with the median of a comprehensive study from Stanford University.

“I appears the study counts both words the ‘child produces or understands,’” Jon explained. “If I’m interpreting the data correctly, I suppose that means he is above average, since he understands the meanings of considerably more words than he can say out loud.”

Jon said he and his wife, Lindsay, typically read three to four short children’s books to Elliot at bedtime. One Reddit user correctly guessed that they’d been reading “Goodnight Moon” to him, as he’d picked up the words “mush,” “moon,” “house” and “mouse.”

Jon Jivan

The dad keeps his son’s progress in perspective, however. “Despite 100 words seeming like a large toddler vocabulary to some, most of what he says is still complete gibberish,” Jon joked.

Other commenters noticed that Elliot said “dad” before “momma.” The dad told HuffPost that this fact warms his heart. “I try not to rub it in my wife’s face,” he said. “This is totally her fault though. She bought him Jimmy Fallon’s book Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada early last year, and it was overwhelmingly successful. Thanks, Jimmy.”

Lindsay explained that she wasn’t hung up on the “dada” before “mama” phenomenon. “I thought that was typical,” she said. “I certainly was not offended!”

Ultimately, the Jivans are simply grateful to have Elliot in their life. “Elliot is a happy, energetic boy who loves trains (’toot toots’) and cats (’kitties’),” the dad said. “Like most other children, he is constantly amazed by what more experienced humans might see as mundane. It’s funny how exciting a wall, or a clock is when you are a 1-year-old.”

He added, “This morning, his mind was blown when he discovered snow had accumulated on the ground last night. One of his favorite games is taking all the Mac and Cheese boxes out of the pantry, setting them up in the kitchen and kicking them over. Kids are weird.”

They certainly are.

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