By George White, CEI Education Policy Associate
Inspired by a landmark study that concluded that a child’s academic success is related to the amount of talk the child hears from adults in the first few years of life, philanthropists, nonprofits, investors and governments are beginning to invest heavily in technology that encourages parents and pre-school educators to do more to ‘spread the words.’
Advocating for Higher Early Childhood Vocabulary Growth
The effort to help early childhood education (ECE) professionals boost the vocabulary of very young children expanded in May when a large coalition that includes the National Head Start Coalition, launched Strive for 5, a website that provides tools and ideas that promote children’s language development. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the U.S. Department of Education have been providing vocabulary-building resources for pre-school educators for many years.
The push for more verbal exchange between parents and their babies or toddlers comes more than 20 years after a study by two University of Kansas child psychologists completed a study that found that the children of poorer families are at an academic disadvantage because they hear less language than their counterparts in higher income homes.
Non-Profits and Government Bodies Acting in Support
Some of the more recent ‘talk technology’ initiatives:
A new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant competition ‘“ an initiative designed to encourage the development of inventions to reduce early childhood language deficits ‘“ completed one phase earlier this year when ten innovators received $10,000 each for making the first cut. They are now creating or refining prototypes of their ideas for a judging period in July, part of a process that will lead to the selection on a single $100,000 prize winner.
The city of Minneapolis in June announced it has formed a local coalition that will join the Clinton Foundation Too Small to Fail campaign, an initiative that provides videos and other resources to help parents talk to their children. Minneapolis was the eighth city to join the campaign.
Zero to Three, a Washington D.C. nonprofit that provides text messages to help parents expand the vocabulary of their children via its Text4Baby program, recently announced it has enrolled 1.013 million mothers.
The Palo Alto-based VersaMe Inc. recently began to sell a small clip-on device that tracks the number of words infants hear and say. The data is forwarded to a smart phone app that encourages parents to meet daily word-count goals.
Providence Talks, a city government initiative launched with a 2013 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, said it generated positive word-count increases in participating homes during a pilot phase completed in June 2015. The program has posted information on its curriculum online. Brown University is helping the city develop an evaluation for the program, which enrolled its 500th family earlier this year.
A similar program in Chicago is called the Thirty Million Words Initiative (TMW), a name that references the estimated vocabulary count-gap between four-year-olds who grow up in word-rich homes and their counterparts in word-poor environments. The organization, which receives support from the PNC Foundation, says early evaluations of the program have shown ‘promising’ results.