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‘Providence Talks’ Targets Closing Language Gap

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A new program offered by the city of Providence, R.I., is taking a different approach to early learning.

“Providence Talks” aims to close the language gap that exists between wealthy and poor children before they even begin preschool.

Numerous studies have fund that poor children tend to learn fewer words than wealthy children, often as a function of their social interactions with their parents.

The program includes outfitting children with recorders — or “word pedometers” — that track how many words toddlers are saying. Home visitors will work with parents. The program targets children two to three years old. The pilot phase of the program launched in January.

Parents are learning that even the most basic interactions can turn into a teaching moment.

“When she grabs your hand and brings you to the refrigerator and points to the cabinet, that is an opportunity for you to say, ‘Deisy, are you hungry? You want cereal? Let’s go look for cereal,’” Providence Talks home visitor Stephanie Taveras said in a New York TImes article. “You do the responding for her now until she has the vocabulary, and she will be hearing you.”

As part of the program, Taveras meets with parents to discuss the data collected on the recorders, which only count words but don’t play the conversation recordings.

Language can also grow through reading books, songs, and play. The Too Small to Fail program is also working with Spanish-language television network Univision to build awareness among parents about language.

The mayor of Providence, Angel Taveras, is Latino and participated in Head Start as a child. Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge awarded a $5 million grant to support the Providence program.

“I really wanted to do something on early childhood education because of what I went through,” he told the Boston Globe. “I felt this was a big issue we could attack on a citywide level.”