LENA Start in Marathon County: Closing Early Childhood Achievement Gaps before They Start

WIPPS Research Partners is leading a coalition of businesses and non-profits in an innovative demonstration project known as LENA Start – designed to help parents and their children close the language gap that correlates with future success in school and life. Language is the single best predictor of future cognition in a young child. Lack of language exposure and learning-rich household environments during early childhood limit the development of a child’s language and literacy skills. This also impacts development of numeracy and social-emotional skills. Studies have shown up to a 30 million word-exposure gap exists between children in low-income families and their more affluent peers by the age of 3. Starting out from behind can trap them in a cycle of continuous catch-up in their learning. Project objectives include:

  1. Advance language development and early literacy skills in children before the age of three
  2. Improve the quantity of talk and quality of parent-child interactions
  3. Promote parent engagement in the community and participation in local early-childhood education programs
  4. Encourage local employers to support employees in their role as parents to help attract and retain productive workers

A project team, led by WIPPS and the Medical College of Wisconsin, is reviewing data collected from the LENA system to monitor language exposure. The team will also measure the impact of the program on the parents through surveys and focus groups and track whether the intervention impacts parent attitudes toward education, interest in early childhood education programs, and commitment to reading to their child. Barriers to parent participation in the program and the experience of families that speak additional languages will be evaluated. The team will assess the building of social capital among parents and possible workplace culture change, and whether or not employer support for the program impacts parent attitudes toward their employer. Results are summarized and shared with project investors and stakeholders semi-annually.