Studer Community Institute is halfway through its LENA Start project and we can share some preliminary data about our results.

SCI is partnered with the Escambia County Early Learning Coalition to bring LENA Start to Pensacola. In all, 25 families are participating in the program.

A LENA Recorder. Credit: LENA Research Foundation.

It uses LENA recording devices to track the number of words, conversational turns and electronic noise a child hears. During weekly meetings, parents see reports on their progress and can share their successes. The meetings also include lesson plans, designed by the LENA Research Foundation in Boulder, Colo., to give parents tools and support to talk and interact more with their children.

The average age of the children in our families using the LENA is 16 months.

In our groups, 66 percent of families are increasing the number of words and turns between parents and children. Our families are reading an average of 18 minutes a day together.

We still have room to grow by increasing our talk and interactions and decreasing our time with electronics, but our trend is heading upward, which is what the folks at LENA Research say should be the main message parents take away from the program.

In January, we will launch another round of LENA Start groups. Children’s Home Society’s Community School project at C.A. Weis and Greater Little Rock Baptist Church already have committed to joining the project in 2018.

SCI and the Early Learning Coalition will continue to recruit partners for the project.

LENA recorders have been used in research projects from home-visitation programs to neonatal intensive care units to help gauge the language exposure children are receiving.

SCI’s partner at the University of Chicago, the Thirty Million Words Initiative, has used LENAs in a home-visit research project that used one-on-one instruction to help parents learn more about early brain development and how the words they use with their children can help prepare their little ones for school.

That early language exposure is a critical component of how young children become ready for kindergarten. Research by Betty Hart and Todd Risley noted the “achievement gap” could be linked to the kind of early language environment a child had in the fist three years of life.

The “achievement gap” is a research-based phenomenon that shows that children from well-off families hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income families.

Hart and Risley found it is not just the number of words a child hears, but the tone in which those words are said and the interaction between the child and adult in that conversation, that is the “secret sauce” of helping a young child build the language skills he or she will need to be ready for school.

LENA Start is a curriculum based on that idea that gives parents real-life techniques, tools and support to talk more, tune in to their young children and take more turns talking, singing and playing together.

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