Aiming to Cure Generational Poverty With Four Simple Words: Talk With Your Baby

Friday, February 17, 2017: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 202 (Hynes Convention Center)
Ashley Darcy Mahoney, George Washington University School of Nursing, Washington, DC
An early environment that includes language-rich, adult-child interactions, or language nutrition, is critical for a child's brain development and subsequent educational achievement. Research demonstrates that the strongest predictor of a child's academic success is the quality and quantity of words spoken to a child in the first three years of life, which is directly related to third grade literacy. Third grade marks a time when children shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and those who cannot make this shift are four times more likely not to reach high school graduation. Children from low-income families hear thirty million words less than peers from more affluent families. Talk With Me Baby (TWMB) is a cross-sector coalition focused on bridging the word gap by building the capacity of parents to provide early language nutrition to their babies. TWMB seeks to create statewide systemic change by establishing a wide-reaching public health, clinical, and early childhood education workforce that can coach parents to talk with their babies by demonstrating dynamic language exchanges and encouraging language-rich home and educational environments. Talk With Me Baby is a public action campaign aimed at coaching parents and caregivers on the primacy of language and Language Nutrition—or the rich language interactions between caregivers and infants— in the earliest stages of a child’s development. Coaching caregivers to provide Language Nutrition to their children at an early age could drastically improve a child’s lifelong trajectory, and we believe that nurses are a very important workforce for delivering this coaching. Further work has been done to expand TWMB to the Spanish speaking community. Háblame Bebé is an educational phone application that aims to empower Hispanic parents and caregivers to engage with their cultural identities, to feel pride in being Hispanic and in speaking Spanish, and to promote bilingualism. It empowers Hispanic parents and caregivers by training them on how to use evidence-based strategies in their heritage language. By speaking in Spanish and passing on their culture, which is entirely free to do, parents learn they have the knowledge and skills to improve their babies’ academic outcomes. This intervention seeks to change conceptions of bilingualism among the marginalized and gives educational apps an exciting new place in early childhood education and caregiving. Fundamental to Talk with Me Baby and Háblame Bebé is the message that parents are their baby’s first and best teachers – regardless of their native language status. TWMB has already started to train nurses and incorporate education about language nutrition into the Georgia Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program and has begun our roll out nationwide. TWMB has the potential to help close the nation's educational achievement gap, leverage dramatic results for children's literary success, and holds promise for children of future generations.