UofM – CEED launches initiative to close 3rd grade reading deficiency gap LENA™ improves school readiness for infants and toddlers

April 1, 2021 — LENA and the University of Memphis are pleased to announce an initiative to improve kindergarten readiness by encouraging parents to talk more with their children. LENA™ features parent classes in English and Spanish that employ LENA (language pedometer) technology to measure how much parents are talking with their children and how much children are responding. The program officially launched fall 2018.

Research has found that the amount of conversation children experience during the first few years of life is related to their brain structure and function and their IQ in adolescence. LENA provides a series of efficient, engaging sessions where caregivers learn to use data about their home and classroom language environment from LENA technology, along with simple strategies to increase interactive talk with children. These practices increase the amount of interactive talk children experience, supporting healthy brain development during the critical early years when babies’ brains are building more than one million neural connections every second.

LENA Start™ classes support parents and caregivers in learning to tune-in on talking more and taking turns in conversation with their children. Over the 10-week program, parents are also introduced to the 10-week version of the Community Nurturing Parenting Program and the TN Building Stronger Brains curriculum. These practices and programs intertwined encourage positive lifelong supportive parenting practices with hopes of mitigating adverse childhood experiences. LENA Start is being implemented through partnerships with: Agape Child & Family Services, Children’s Museum of Memphis, Memphis Lift, Memphis Public Libraries, Shelby County Schools, TN Dept. of Human Services, Universal Parenting Place, WKNO and is sought after by Shelby County Juvenile Court with secured funding.

LENA Grow™ is designed to provide coaching to teachers based on data gathered using the LENA devices that describe the amount of talk and conversational turns that care providers use when interacting with young children one day each week in their classroom. LENA data and practices are integrated into weekly meetings of professional learning to support professional development. These weekly coaching sessions involve reviewing and reflecting on their classroom graphs of adult talk, conversational turns and child vocalizations from their most recent recording day. LENA Grow is implemented through University of Memphis and Porter-Leath Early Head Start.

LENA Home™ features strengths-based home visiting sessions for children with developmental disabilities to measure how much parents are talking with their children and how much children are responding. LENA Home is being implemented through Agape Child & Family Services, Le Bonheur’s Nurse Family Home Partnership and UofM’s Project Memphis in collaboration with UTHSC Obstetrics & Gynecology program. Two of several LENA Home sites around the country, LENA Home has been implemented by school districts, Head Start organizations and other organizations providing home visiting services to families.

“Launching LENA Home allows CEED to add a concentrated focus on early language to their services,” said Dr. Stephen Hannon, president of LENA. “Early language and literacy skills form the foundation upon which all of a child’s later social-emotional and cognitive skills will be built. When families regularly converse with children, they’re creating a blueprint for healthy development.”

“Kindergarten Readiness is not about the ABCs and 123s, it’s about social and emotional development,” said Dr. Loretta Rudd, the project director.

The Shelby County initiative is one of many LENA sites around the country but was the first to see the importance of launching all three LENA programs at once. 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 a 73% LENA graduation rate, with improvements in four key areas:

• 73% of adult caregivers are speaking more to their babies

• Nearly 70% of families are having more conversations with their babies

• Families reported reading 69% more with their babies than before

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

“The LENA model is laser-focused on simple, practical ways to help parents improve talk with their babies,” said Hannon. “Focus is extremely important, now more than ever. More than half the children coming into America’s educational systems 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.”

LENA Start classes begin each season about every 12 weeks. Interested families can visit our website or call for updates: memphis.edu/ceed/lena|901.678.3589

About Language Environment Analysis (LENA)

LENA is a 501(c)(3) public charity based in Boulder, Colorado. 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, please visit LENA.org or contact Jess Simmons at 303.441.9048 or email jsimmons@lena.org.

About Coordinated Effort to Enhance Development (CEED)

At the University of Memphis, housed in the College of Professional and Liberal Studies, CEED is a UCI grant funded project under the division of Child Development and Family Studies. Created in response to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study findings suggesting certain adverse or negative childhood experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. Acknowledging our future depends on the healthy growth and development of today's children, as adults, we are responsible for ensuring all children have the safe, stable, nurturing and healthy environments they need to thrive. When children have supportive, loving relationships with adults, their brain architecture is built in a healthy way, forming a solid foundation for future growth and development.

The Coordinated Effort to Enhance Development (CEED) project is a multi-disciplinary approach to enhancing social and emotional development in young children with a coordinated effort of individuals working in/with early care and learning (i.e. childcare directors, childcare teachers, parents with children in childcare and the children in childcare). We target zip codes with the densest population of children under age 4 as well as the highest percentage of households at or below the poverty level (38128, 38127, 38118, 38116, 38114, 38111 and 38109). Childcare directors, childcare teachers and parents of young children receive training to enhance knowledge and skills in social, emotional and language development, which are necessary for third grade reading. We expect that the directors, caregivers and parents will demonstrate enhanced knowledge and skills in fostering social, emotional and language development as measured by locally developed surveys and direct observation using the NAEYC observation tool while the parents’ knowledge and skills will be measured with the LENA Snapshot instrument. Finally, we expect that the children will experience gains in social, emotional and language development as measured by the ASQ.