LENA Start improves language environment
In August 2020, Read Aloud Delaware made a major pivot and introduced Language Environment Analysis into the bevy of services we offer Delaware’s families. LENA Start is a program focused on kids from birth to 3 years old. It incorporates wearable technology designed to track and improve the language environment in the home between child and caregiver. There is no better way to increase the third-grade reading levels of our children than by starting with them at birth, and that is what this program aims to do.
Over the course of 10 weeks, families are shown simple ways to create a running narrative of their lives by speaking more to their child without going out of their way to do so. As an example, during the “food” session, families are encouraged to verbalize their actions in front of their young child and say things like, “I am using the silver knife to cut the orange carrot into five different pieces.” While beyond their comprehension now, children are exposed to numerous words and concepts that will make more sense to them when their brains develop.
Thanks to our partnerships with Delaware Adolescent Program Incorporated, Parents as Teachers, United Way of Delaware, the Latin American Community Center and other youth-focused nonprofits, we are on track to serve more than 100 families in both English and Spanish by the end of this year.
Feedback we received from the diverse group of families that have gone through the program includes comments such as: “LENA Start really helped me learn how to teach my child through everyday situations. It has made me more mindful about how to talk to and incorporate my child into my everyday routine.”
LENA Start is a program for both first-time parents and seasoned veterans. One family member said, “I gained confidence as a first-time parent knowing that I'm maximizing these first three critical years in my child's language development and best preparing her for the school years ahead.” Another said, “This program is valuable for every type of parent, and they teach ways to reincorporate learning/reading through play, so it doesn't feel so inundating.”
Building social capital and sharing ideas amongst families is also a component of the program, and one family remarked, “It was great to share ideas and methods of teaching and engaging with your child.” Another family said, “Not only have we seen our son flourish since his participation in LENA Start, we've also personally benefited from the community of fellow parents participating in the program.”
While speaking to a child in general is important, engagement is even more impactful for brain development. The importance of conversational turns (engaging in conversation with open-ended questions that invite responses from the child) is also remarked upon: “I learned that I need to talk with my baby, not to him. We now have a daily routine to read with him also.”
The importance of reading is, of course, pushed heavily during the course, and parents are provided free books each week. One family remarked, “My child really flourished with his language development, and we developed a better communication between us. And another wonderful surprise was my son's newfound love of reading to the point he demands several books in a row.”
As a new parent, I find myself incorporating what I have learned from the program every day as well. Specifically, reading aloud to my newborn as much as possible, getting our faces close while speaking to him on finance and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and using his hands to clap to music while I sing to him – LENA says not to let your bad voice hold you back from singing, and I don’t!
We are very thankful to our funding partners at the Delaware Community Foundation, the Laffey-McHugh Foundation and the Arsht-Cannon Fund for their support of LENA Start. If you are interested in learning more about LENA Start, or enrolling, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.