Early talk with babies is the strongest predictor of cognitive development and school readiness, and the most important period of time for a baby’s brain development is before the 3rd birthday. But in some lower socioeconomic families, children may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than children from more advantaged backgrounds, eventually resulting in an academic achievement gap.
In an effort to close the word gap in children between 0 and 30 months, Le Bonheur has partnered with local nonprofit Seeding Success, the University of Memphis and the Urban Child Institute to implement programs from the LENA Foundation. One program, LENA Start, is a small group program for parents offered through Le Bonheur’s Family Resilience Initiative that aims to educate parents on the importance of early, quality talk to promote brain development.
Le Bonheur’s Family Resilience Initiative began its first LENA Start group in Memphis in Fall 2018. The LENA Start program combines three elements to help parents build brain development in babies. First, the LENA system, a “talk pedometer,” measures how much parents are talking and provides ways for parents to increase words and conversational turns. Second, weekly parent group meetings are held for 13 weeks, and parents receive reports of their progress. Finally, each family receives a shared reading book and materials to take home and practice simple talking tips and techniques learned during each session. This LENA Start group had six families graduate from the program with an 80% increase in conversational turns.
“The LENA Start program creates a supportive place where parents feel connected,” said Lisa Rogers, manager of the Family Resilience Initiative. “This exceeded our expectations in terms of the level of commitment from parents as well as the increase in relationships and rapport.”
Participants in the LENA Start program will continue to have follow-up and ongoing observation for several years. For six months after the program, parents receive text messages with talking tips, resources and other ways of increasing talk time. Seeding Success will be able to view and track how these children fare in kindergarten through a data sharing agreement with the local school districts.
In addition, parents from the original group have expressed interest in continuing support groups. “We are always excited to see organizations look for sustainable and innovative ways to support parent engagement outside of programs like LENA Start,” said LaDora Watkins, network specialist with Seeding Success. “This group wanted to continue meeting, so the Family Resilience Initiative leadership took the initiative to find other ways to continue helping these parents work with their children.”
Preliminary results from this group demonstrate the positive changes enacted by the program. Eighty percent of those in the group increased conversational turns and interactive talk between parents and children, and 75% of families showed gains in total scores including reading, inclusion in routines and lowered parental stress. Nationwide, the LENA Start program has shown that children whose parents participated in the program are gaining nearly two months of developmental skill every month.
LENA Start is one of three programs the LENA Foundation is using to close the word gap and thereby improve school readiness. LENA Home is a one-on-one program where family support workers visit families on a weekly basis to focus on early language development. Le Bonheur implemented LENA Home into its existing Maternal Child home visitation programs in February 2019. The final piece is LENA Grow which focuses on early childhood educators and day care centers increasing talk interaction with the children in their care.
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