This month, Nitza Vega-Lahr, Ph.D.,Director of Dual Language Learners Program at the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School, shares her thoughts about the importance of talking with babies (below). PAT actively promotes the concept of language nutrition to all our refugee families.
It’s no secret. The leading researchers in the field of early child development and neuroscience have clearly established that talking with babies does make their brains smarter.
During the early years, babies’ brains are rapidly making millions of connections. In fact, more than one million of connections are formed per second! These connections form the brain architecture needed to support skill development in all areas, including reading. It’s the loving, back and forth interactions that young children have with the meaningful adults in their lives that make these connections happen. The millions of words a baby hears through playing, talking, reading, and singing together with adults prepare his brain for learning, including learning to read by the end of third grade.
Our nation is experiencing a very serious crisis. Only one third of our country’s children can read proficiently by the end of third grade. Yet the solution is right in front of our eyes. The more words children know and understand, the more language they will have and the better prepared they will be to learn to read. It doesn’t start in Kindergarten. It starts right from birth. Today, many more infants and toddlers spend their day in some form of care outside the home. Early education teachers play a pivotal role in their development, partnering with families to ensure that infants and toddlers grow healthy and strong. While teachers work primarily with children and engage families in all their efforts, a new role is required of them, to ensure that all infants and toddlers receive the benefits of Language Nutrition. Infant and toddler teachers are called to be coaches for families, supporting them to practice Language Nutrition with their children
The Rollins Center for Language & Literacy, a program of the Atlanta Speech School, has recently launched Talk With Me Baby(TWMB), the newest addition to a universally accessible set of online courses, Read Right from the Start on the Cox Campus. TWMB arms infant and toddler teachers with the skills to implement a two- generation solution to help end our country's illiteracy epidemic. The Cox Campus offers several courses for infant and toddler teachers on being responsive, engaging children as conversational partners, and reading books interactively. TWMB empowers teachers to transfer the skills they have for talking with young children to families, so they too, can engage their babies in powerful interactions. The course was developed by the Atlanta Speech School in partnership with Georgia’s Departments of Public Health and Early Care and Learning and includes two embedded lessons on brain development co-created with Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. Partners also include the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) and Better Brains for Babies. All Georgia partners are working in concert with Get Georgia Reading and a broader TWMB coalition to train all providers (nurses and other workforces) working with families and caregivers to support their efforts to provide “Language Nutrition” to their young children.
TWMB coaching occurs in Lightning Coaching Moments, the brief everyday touchpoints families and teachers have at the beginning and end of the day. These moments are used to model critical skills and share important educational messages with families. Families who speak a language other than English at home are encouraged to talk with their babies in their home language, emphasizing that language nutrition can be practiced in any language – the important point is to promote talking and engagement between families and their children. Messages also promote the value and benefits of multilingualism.
In TWMB coaching, teachers learn how to provide families with language from the baby's experiences and how to pass the "language nutrition" baton to the parent at the end of the day. In the morning, teachers anticipate receiving the baton back from families, as they share their extensions of yesterday's conversation with their babies. As the day begins, families expect to see and hear the teacher pick up the baton, extending the conversation that they just shared with her, and look forward with anticipation when they return in the afternoon to start the process all over again.
Though this daily teamwork, teachers and families become partners in building deep connections and sharing language with children and each other that will set in motion the construction of each child’s “reading brain.” Teachers and families work together to construct a solid TWMB ecosystem, an environment where conversations with adults and children take place continuously! As adults engage in these interactions, they are building brains, relationships, and the foundation for literacy. Without this shared effort and the brain development it brings, babies are behind before they ever get started, and they will require remediation to be on a path to read proficiently by the end of third grade. Below is a link to the course itself. Encourage teachers, families, leaders, and community members to take this course. The Cox Campus is free and accessible to all because of our shared commitment to change children’s futures through literacy.
If you’d like more information about TWMB for Infant and Toddler Teachers, please contact Nitza Vega-Lahr, Ph.D., Director of Dual Language Learners Program at the Rollins Center for L&L, firstname.lastname@example.org.