Mayors Challenge Finalist: Providence (Video, Vote)

Idea Summary: By their fourth birthday, children who grow up in low-income households will have heard thirty-million fewer words than their middle- and high-income peers. Providence Talks solves this problem, for good. Click here to vote for this idea.

Children need to hear approximately 21,000 words per day for their vocabularies to develop at an appropriate pace. But research has shown that children growing up in less affluent homes hear significantly fewer words each day than their peers in middle and high-income households.

This word gap quickly adds up. In fact, by the time a child growing up in a low-income household reaches their fourth birthday, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers in middle- and high-income households.

Providence Talks - a free, confidential and completely voluntary early intervention program - is our plan to solve this national challenge, starting right here in Providence.

Here's how it would work: we propose to equip families eligible for home visitation services through Rhode Island's Universal Newborn Screening process with a small recording device capable of measuring the number of words a child hears each day. This device, developed by the LENA Research Foundation, filters out television and background noise and develops a comprehensive picture of a child's daily auditory environment, including adult word count and the number of conversational interactions the child engages in during the course of the day.

Families participating in Providence Talks would receive these data during a monthly coaching visit along with targeted coaching and information on existing community resources like read-aloud programs at neighborhood libraries or special events at local children's museums.

Early results demonstrate that simple access to information can be powerful. In one pilot study, caretakers presented with data on their child's vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55% on average.

We believe these data will be useful for city managers as well. Aggregate data on block and neighborhood level household auditory environments would allow us to direct existing early childhood resources with a level of precision and thoughtfulness never before possible.

In short, Providence Talks proposes to do something never before attempted at the municipal level: to intervene at a critically early age, from birth to age four, to close the 30 million word gap at a city-wide scale and ensure that every child in Providence enters a kindergarten classroom ready to achieve at extraordinary levels.

This is a pressing issue at the local and national level. Here in Providence, only one out of three kindergarten registrants enters the classroom at the appropriate literacy benchmark. Across our nation, we know that our teachers and schools work incredibly hard to catch our children up to grade level, often starting on the very first day of school.

Providence Talks will unlock the incredible teaching power of parents and caretakers, empowering them with the tools they need to ensure their child enters school ready to succeed. Ultimately, we believe that cities across America will look to this model as a cost-effective, game-changing intervention that dramatically levels the playing field for children of all backgrounds.


This post is an entry in the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, a partnership between The Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies that allows readers to vote on their favorite idea among the 20 Mayors Challenge finalists. The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. To view the ideas from the 20 finalists, click the grid below -- and then vote for your favorite here! And follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #MayorsChallenge.

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