University of Memphis Project Launches New Initiative to Close the Talk Gap

LENA Start™ Improves School Readiness for Infants and Toddlers

January 7, 2019 - The University of Memphis and LENA, in partnership with Agape, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital and Porter-Leath, are collaborating on an initiative to improve kindergarten readiness by encouraging parents to talk more with their children. LENA Start™ features parent classes in English and Spanish that employ LENA "talk pedometer" technology to measure how much parents are talking with their children, and how much children are responding. The program launches this month at locations across Memphis.

LENA Start classes help parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers (0-30 months) close the "talk gap." Research indicates that academic achievement gaps result because some children experience millions fewer words and conversations than their peers during the critical early years when babies' brains are developing rapidly and building over a million neural connections per second. LENA Start provides a series of efficient, engaging parent sessions where caregivers learn to use data about their home language environment from LENA technology, along with simple strategies to increase interactive talk with their children.

"LENA is a powerful tool to enhance language, and in turn, social development in young children," said Dr. Loretta Rudd, UofM clinical associate professor and project director/project investigator. "Those areas of development set the foundation for school success. The partnership between the four organizations and funded by the Urban Child Institute demonstrates the commitment to this community to provide families with young children assistance in providing this foundation."

The LENA Start program launched in Memphis in fall 2017. Seeding Success, a local nonprofit focused on education outcomes, coordinated the implementation, and Porter-Leath, Su Casa and CEED (Coordinated Effort to Enhance Development) facilitated the classes. Positive feedback from participating families and promising results around increased interactive talk led the Urban Child Institute and CEED to look for ways to expand the program's reach in the community. They decided to bring LENA's other programs, LENA Home and LENA Grow, to Memphis to expand the impact of early talk to additional parents as well as early childhood educators.

The Memphis initiative is one of many LENA Start sites launching around the country this year. Since its introduction in 2015, LENA Start has been implemented by school districts, hospitals, library systems and social service organizations. Results from initial implementations show an 80 percent graduation rate, with improvements in four key areas:

• 73 percent of adult caregivers are speaking more to their babies.

• More than 70 percent of families are having more conversations with their babies.

• Families reported reading 56 percent more with their babies than before.

• Children's language scores are growing almost twice as fast as comparison groups.

"The LENA Start model is laser-focused on simple, practical ways to help parents improve talk with their babies," said Dr. Stephen Hannon, president of LENA. "Focus is extremely important, now more than ever. More than half the children coming into America's schools today are low-income, and the data show that they disproportionately start school under-prepared. Early language is the starting point in turning that around."

Interested families can sign up for LENA classes by calling 901.678.3589.

About LENA
LENA is a 501(c)(3) public charity based in Boulder, Colo. Its mission is to accelerate language development in children birth to 3, in order to improve their cognitive, social, and emotional health and to close opportunity gaps. Used by researchers and clinicians all over the world, LENA technology measures a child's language environment and provides vital feedback to parents and professionals in programs dedicated to close the language, learning and opportunity gap for children. For more information, visit LENA.org or contact Jess Simmons at 303.441.9048 or jsimmons@lena.org.


Sonja Randall | sdnesbtt@memphis.edu | 901.678.3589