A. Providence Talks – Putting the Research into Practice

A. Providence Talks – Putting the Research into Practice

A new idea is taking hold throughout America. The earlier and the more often you talk to your baby, the better.

The evidence is clear. According to research conducted by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley and published in their book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children (University of Kansas Press), how often parents talk to their babies makes a tremendous difference on how well their children do in school. You can read a summary of their research.

Baby talk works. (See our earlier post on the Word Gap here)

As reporter Tina Rosenberg wrote in the New York Times, Hart and Risley made the point that the disparity in word usage “correlated so closely with academic success that kids born to families on welfare do worse than professional-class children entirely because their parents talk to them less. In other words, if everyone talked to their young children the same amount, there would be no racial or socioeconomic gap at all.”

Bilingual Baby Board Books - Spanish and English

Bilingual Baby Board Books

Lectura Books will be introducing its BABY TALK BOARD BOOK SERIES® in March 2015 as a way to help Spanish speaking parents start talking and reading to their babies. The books are designed to help parents learn English vocabulary with their babies.

One city has put this research into practice in a big way. In the spring of 2013, Providence, Rhode Island received the $5 million grand prize from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. The city actually beat 300 other cities for the best new idea. The new program is called Providence Talks.

According to a report in the New York Times, “In Providence, only one in three children enter school ready for kindergarten reading. The city already has a network of successful programs in which nurses, mentors, therapists and social workers regularly visit pregnant women, new parents and children in their homes, providing medical attention and advice, therapy, counseling and other services. Now Providence will train these home visitors to add a new service: creating family conversation.”

The Providence program kicked off a year ago in January 2014 and aimed to have 2,000 families involved with the program. According to the Providence Talks website, here’s is how the program works:

Participating families receive free access to a “word pedometer” and bi-weekly coaching from trained home visitors. The “word pedometer,” developed by the Colorado-based LENA Research Foundation (we will have a future blog post on LENA), filters out television and background noise and develops a comprehensive picture of a child’s daily auditory environment, including adult word count and the number of conversational interactions the child engages in during the course of the day. Early results demonstrate that simple access to information can be powerful. In one pilot study, caretakers presented with data on their child’s vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55% on average. In short, Providence Talks proposes to do something never before attempted at the municipal level: to intervene at a critically early age, from birth to age four, to close the 30 million word gap at a city-wide scale and ensure that every child in Providence enters a kindergarten classroom ready to achieve at extraordinary levels.

We will follow this bold experiment and report back on its progress in a future blog post.