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Providence Talks: Preparing Every Child for Success in School

The Problem

Research shows that, by the time they enter kindergarten, children growing up in low-income households in the United States will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers from middle and high-income households. Low-income children hear 73% fewer words than children in high-income households and 54% fewer words than children in middle-income families. This “word gap” undermines school readiness and performance.

The Innovation

Providence Talks helps parents use more words with their children during the critical brain development years from birth to age three. The program uses new technology that counts the number of words that children are hearing and the amount of parent-child “conversational turns” that are taking place in the home. The technology is complimented by monthly visits by coaches who show parents their progress and offer tips for improvement.

The Impact

A pilot program, launched in 2014, enrolled over 175 families and exposed the severity of the “word gap” problem: more than half of the children participating in the program were hearing far fewer words than they need for healthy brain development. After completing initial coaching sessions, however, those families who started out at the lowest levels increased the words spoken in the home by 50%, moving from an average of 8,000 words per day to an average of 12,500 words per day. Research indicates that children should hear approximately 15,000 words per day for optimal development.