LENA Start launches in Pensacola, the first in Florida

Baby wearing LENA vest. Credit: LENA Research Foundation.

It takes a lot of small steps in the journey to make Pensacola America’s First Early Learning City.

Studer Community Institute took one of those steps on Sept. 13, introducing LENA Start at First Presbyterian Church Child Discovery Center.

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

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

Pensacola is the first site for LENA Start in Florida.

At the Child Discovery Center, 15 parents are participating in the weekly sessions that include a curriculum of lessons, activities, videos and table exercises.

The Early Learning Coalition of Escambia has combined a group of parents at Kid’s Club on Davis Highway to begin its session this week.

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

The most critical part of the program is the digital recorder, or “talk pedometer.” It is tucked into a vest worn by babies and toddlers (up to 30 months) to record a full day’s worth of talking.

A LENA Recorder. Credit: LENA Research Foundation.

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

SCI LENA coordinators then will upload the recordings to Lena headquarters, which will generate reports that show how much the parents talked with their children and discuss strategies to help parents talk more throughout the program and as the child continues to develop and grow.

The recording device, along with the course materials, are part of the LENA Start™ program, an early language technology package overseen by the LENA Research Foundation that got its start on the East Coast and has recently come to Pensacola.

To ease parents’ fears, it’s important to note that nobody’s actually listening to those conversations. LENA’s software analyzes the pattern of those conversations and turns it into data.

While the recorder doesn’t track what words parents and children are saying or hearing, it does capture a lot of valuable information, including the number of conversational turns or exchanges between child and adult, time spent listening to a television or other ambient noise versus communicating, and the frequency of the child’s communication attempts.

Based on the findings of each report, parents and coaches are able to pinpoint times of the day where lots of talking is taking place and develop strategies to replicate more of these moments, whether it’s taking advantage of downtime in the car during a morning commute or trading out some evening TV time for playtime.

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.

At SCI, we’re taking small steps every day to make Pensacola’s America’s First Early Learning City.

LENA Start is a key part of becoming an Early Learning City by ensuring that parents are ably prepared to help their build their babies’ brains, prepare their young children for kindergarten and help them reach important developmental milestones in their lives.