LENA Start gets parents talking to their babies

Talking with babies and toddlers is crucial for their development.

Research shows that the more words children hear in the first three years of life builds the brain structure that will be needed later to support reading and thinking skills. Those early language skills can also lead to continued academic success later in life.

The LENA Research Foundation, a charitable foundation based in Boulder, Colo., is working to help families improve those conversations.

Over the past two years, LENA has expanded its reach and impact on early talk by partnering with trusted organizations across the country to implement LENA Start, which combines LENA’s “talk pedometer” technology with a complete group curriculum that teaches parents simple strategies to talk more with their babies.

The Studer Community Institute is excited to be a part of the expanded role that LENA is taking.

SCI and the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County will participate in the LENA Start program beginning with the start of school in the fall.

SCI staff and representatives from organizations and churches involved in implementing the program in Pensacola met last week in a telephone conference call with LENA Foundation officials.

The conference call provided an opportunity for local participants to engage and learn more about LENA and how it will work in Pensacola with parents and babies.

LENA stands for Language Environment Analysis. The LENA system measures the way parents and their young children converse.

A digital recorder, or “talk pedometer,” that tucks into a vest worn by babies and toddlers (up to age 3) records a full day’s worth of conversation.

That data is used to generate a report to that provides information on the number of words that the child was exposed to as well as the turn taking interactions, the back and forth that occurred in the child’s language environment throughout the day.

Afterwards, a coach (that would be me) talks through a LENA report that shows how much they talked with their children and discuss strategies to help parents talk more frequently throughout the day and night.

Using a LENA in a research setting with parents helped decrease screen time, which the American Academy of Pediatrics says should be banned for children under 18 months. The feedback provided by the report helps parents find ways to increase interactive talk with their little ones. ”

The LENA Research Foundation, creator of LENA Start, is dedicated to increasing talk in the first three years of a child’s life when a child’s brain develops to 80 percent of its adult size. During this critical window, children from low-income families may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers.

SCI has recruited three groups of parents to participate in the 13-week parenting sessions that will use the LENA Start.

The sessions will include at least 10 and no more than 20 parents to launch in the first year, and up to seven groups in the second year, starting in January 2018.

The participants include:

— First Presbyterian Church’s Child Discovery Center.

— Community Action Program’s Early Head Start at A.A. Dixon Head Start Center.

— The Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County will combine a group of parents for a third group.

Outcomes show that babies whose caregivers have participated in the program are building five months of language development in two months’ time.

LENA Start is focused on helping parents build good talk habits that will have an impact babies in the program’s 13-week duration by providing parents with a powerful resource to keep talk top of mind.

Pensacola will be the first site for LENA Start in Florida.

The Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County last fall began a pilot program using LENA Grow in child development centers to track interactions between caregivers and infants and toddlers.

In that program children wear the talk pedometer that enables teachers to measure how much they talk with the children under their care.

The LENA devices typically have been used in home-visitation based programs in a research setting to coach parents on how to increase the words they say to their little ones.

That includes nearly 300 projects, such as Dana Suskind’s Thirty Million Words Initiative at the University of Chicago (a partner in early education with SCI) and the Providence Talks project in Rhode Island.

There are many things parents can give their children, but not much is more important — or less expensive — than giving them your words.

Talking builds healthy relationships and social skills. Parents are their baby’s first and best teacher, and the more words children hear from their parents, the stronger their brains will become.

LENA Start is an important tool to help parents gain the skills to talk to their babies. All of these tools and skills will be important for their child’s later success in school and beyond.