Read Aloud seeks to close literacy, talk gap

Read Aloud Delaware, a statewide organization dedicated to early childhood literacy for over 35 years, recently announced a partnership with LENA Start designed to help parents and caregivers measure, improve and make the most of their verbal connections with young children.

The LENA Start program uses current technology to count the adult words, conversation turns, and ambient noise, like televisions and other electronic devices, that a child hears in a day.

The technology, dubbed a “talk pedometer” and worn by the child, provides vital feedback to parents and professionals to help close the language, learning and opportunity gaps for children.

Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, LENA’s mission is to accelerate language development in children birth to three. The LENA Start program offers parents a free, 10-week series of workshops in English and Spanish. Families will be offered incentives to participate.

The workshops support parents and caregivers in learning to tune-in, talk more, and take turns in conversation. These practices increase the amount of interactive talk children experience, supporting healthy brain development during the critical early years.

The program will launch throughout Delaware in late October, while recruitment of interested families begins immediately. Classes will take place virtually. There is no cost to the participating families.

Studies of existing LENA Start programs have shown significant improvement in the time caregivers and parents are spending talking and reading to their young children. In addition, children achieve two months of developmental gains for each month in the program and have elevated language skill one year after participating.

“The LENA Start model is laser-focused on simple, practical ways to help parents improve talk with their babies,” says Dr. Stephen Hannon, president of LENA.

“Read Aloud Delaware, and many organizations in Delaware, have been in conversations with LENA for years,” explains James Spadola, executive director of Read Aloud Delaware.

“As the pandemic prevents Read Aloud Delaware volunteers from in-person readings in child care centers, LENA Start is a great way for us to continue to have an impact throughout the state. We look forward to recruiting a diverse group of families from across the state for a successful program.

“Many thanks to LENA for providing us with over $30,000 in equipment and training, at no cost, and to the Delaware Community Foundation for awarding us $20,000 to help implement LENA and provide families incentives to participate.”

Families interested in participating in the LENA Start program or in obtaining more information should call 302-656-5265 or email jspadola@readalouddelaware.org.