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Talking grows babies’ brains

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The Dayton Daily News


Learn to Earn Dayton

Hope Collins, director of Birth to 3 initiatives


Believe it or not, babies are great listeners. And when they hear lots of conversation, that helps wire their brains for life.

More than 85 percent of brain growth occurs during the first three years of life.

In a study by Harvard University’s Division of Medical Science and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers found that children who were exposed to significant conversation scored on average 12 percent higher on standardized language assessments.

Particularly significant, the benefits of conversation are just as strong for low-income children as for high-income children. This suggests that increasing the amount of language low-income children hear could help bridge the achievement gap associated with poorer children.

When researchers compared peak hours of conversation, children in high-income households had 50 more conversational “turns” than children in low-income households. (A turn is when an adult speaks and the child responds, or vice versa. A single turn could be as short as, “Do you like carrots.”...”No!”) If someone asked how many conversational turns you have with a child in your care, you’d probably say, “We talk all the time.” But most people would struggle to quantify their talk.

That’s where LENA — short for Language Environment Analysis — comes in. This Colorado nonprofit organization has developed researchbacked technology that puts powerful data in the hands of parents and childcare providers.

It starts with a baby wearing an easy-to-slip-on vest that has a tiny, highly sensitive digital recorder that picks up language in the child’s environment.

Often called a “Fitbit for talking,” LENA technology tracks the number of words, conversational turns and screen time a child experiences — without recording the content of the conversation.

Parents or teachers then can see charts showing how many words a child heard, how often the child was spoken to and when the child was hearing only a few words.

LENA has different models for families and teachers, each with tips for increasing the amount of language a child hears. Users like the LENA trackers because the data encourages them to increase their talk time.

Groups across Montgomery County have been working to introduce LENA technology locally. This year home visiting programs, parent groups and childcare programs will be participating in LENA pilots.

“I am always looking for ways to help families be great teachers for their children,” says Christina Hayslip, a home visitor with Help Me Grow Brighter Futures.

Learn to Earn Dayton also is working with Rosa Parks Early Learning Center, the Dayton Metro Library, Catholic Social Services and others to start LENA parent groups and use the technology in classrooms.

Groups will form throughout summer and fall.







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