We’re excited to announce that All Our Kin has received a grant from the United Way of Greater New Haven to support our work around early literacy and numeracy with family child care providers. The grant, through United Way’s Success by 6 initiative, will allow All Our Kin’s educational consultants to infuse their existing one-on-one coaching sessions with providers with intentional curriculum development in these areas. All Our Kin will also be able to provide caregivers with more books, props, and other materials that support children’s early language development and understanding of numerical concepts.
Why is it so essential that our providers emphasize early language, literacy, and numeracy skills in their programs? Let’s focus on the impact of early language environments on children. Exposure to language has been linked to children’s vocabulary size at 25 months, language processing speed at 18 and 25 months, and linguistic and cognitive abilities up to age eight. Yet children in low-income families are less likely to be exposed to the language-rich environments that are so crucial to their healthy development.
Groundbreaking research in the 1990s by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that children growing up in poverty heard just 616 words per hour, on average, compared to the 2,153 words heard per hour by peers whose parents were professionals. This adds up to a difference of 30 million words by children’s third birthday. Using a new tool called the LENATM (Language ENvironment Analysis) System, researchers have since confirmed these general results with a larger sample size.
These early disparities create barriers to academic success that are evident in the poor test scores of low-income children in Connecticut. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2013, low-income fourth-graders in Connecticut scored 32 points lower than their peers on reading and 31 points lower on math. In 2012 the Connecticut Council for Education Reform concluded that Connecticut had the largest achievement gap in the nation, based on data from the 2011-2012 Connecticut Mastery and Academic Progress Test and the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
These disparities are why we urgently need investments that will help more children, especially low-income children, receive the early exposure to words and numbers they need to grow and learn. We know that language-rich environments help shape early language acquisition, which is pivotal to school readiness and later success. We cannot ignore profound inequalities in early environments if we are to close the educational achievement gap.
We need campaigns like the University of Chicago-based Thirty Million Words Initiative, which offers parents a multimedia curriculum aimed at enriching children’s language environments, and the City of Providence’s ambitious plan to close the word gap by coaching parents in real-time, based on data collected via recording devices on children.
While supporting and educating parents is an essential task, it’s important not to forget that non-parental caregivers also play a significant role in shaping young children’s first experiences. In 2011, 12.5 million children age 4 and under were in a regular child care arrangement, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As one might expect, research has shown that caregivers, as well as parents, impact the language development of children in their programs. If we’re serious about supporting young children’s development, we need to support caregivers—across settings—who provide a home away from home for millions of young children.
At All Our Kin, we’re already tackling the word gap by giving our family child care providers tools and knowledge to create stimulating and language-centered environments for children in their care. Our new grant from the United Way will allow us to expand and deepen this work to ensure that more children receive the early experiences they need to succeed in school and in life. In an upcoming post, we’ll focus on early numeracy and explore some of the activities and strategies our providers use to build children’s exposure to mathematical concepts.