Counting Words Shared Between Parents and Young Children

As every parent comes to know, their babies are like sponges – soaking up what they hear and feel from the most important people in their lives – their caregivers.

As every parent comes to know, their babies are like sponges – soaking up what they hear and feel from the most important people in their lives – their caregivers.

Research that tells us that by age three, children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.

The Village’s innovative Words Count is helping parents to build language and literacy skills in their young children, which data demonstrates can have a significant impact on a child’s future academic success.

How? Through support from literacy coaches who sit down with parents and their babies in their homes, and a small recorder that is sewn into a vest that the children wear. It measures the amount of spoken words a child hears and conversations the child has with the adults. Words Count is the first program in Connecticut to use the recorder. The program got its start with funding from LEGO Community Fund U.S. and NBC Universal, and additional support has been provided by United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, The Fund for Greater Hartford and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

The recorded information is turned into reports that parents and the literacy coaches can use to improve their children’s language skills.

“I really liked the technology component and being able to have that visual data to refer back to,” said Annie, who enrolled in the program with her daughter, Juliet. “I don’t know how I would have gotten that information elsewhere.”

“The family literacy coaches work with families during in-home and community-based coaching sessions,” said Nicole Castro, program coordinator. Through a variety of games, activities and other strategies, parents are helped to increase their children’s vocabulary and enhance their conversational abilities.

“While the program focuses on literacy, the real benefit is strengthening parent-child bonds and helping parents understand their role as their child’s first teacher,” said Lynn Webber, program manager.

“We aren’t just focused on reading, which is important for parents who don’t read well themselves,” said Jessica Garcia, family literacy coach. “It’s about the parent-child interaction and the nurturing component. Kids learn better from an adult they care about than from a tablet or TV.”

“It didn’t seem like something we were ‘working on,’” said Annie. “It was something we were having fun doing all together.”

Of the first group of families to complete the program, over 80 percent demonstrated an increase in the number of words spoken by an adult in the home, and over 70 percent increased the number of conversations between the adult and the child. All of these families have increased their understanding of the relationship between parent-child interaction and language and literacy development.

This story appeared in The Village’s 2017 annual report: Where Real Change Happens. Read the full report >

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