In the early 1990s, educational researchers and educators Betty Hart and Todd Risley set out to determine why early intervention efforts were failing.  In a groundbreaking study, Hart and Risley measured the number of words addressed to 42 children from diverse socio-economic statuses over a period of 2.5 years.  They found that, by age 3, children from families on welfare have had 30 million fewer words addressed to them than children from professional families.  This is commonly referred to as the “word gap.”  This word gap can have serious consequences for children’s literacy and educational achievement over time.

JLLA’s new Literacy Toolkit Incubated Project addresses this word gap by giving parents practical tools to help them build their children’s vocabulary.  The toolkit focuses on strategies parents can use while conversing with their children about everyday topics, including mealtime, clothing, emotions, nature, and playtime.  Each topic comes with a small corresponding note card including vocabulary, an easy conversation strategy, and a sample conversation.

This league year, JLLA’s Literacy Toolkit is partnering with Para Los Niños, a Los Angeles based non-profit that operates education centers, charter schools, and wellness centers.  Caregivers of children in the Para Los Niños Head Start program attended three JLLA-hosted workshops in the fall.  Literacy Toolkit committee members introduced caregivers to the cards, taught them the conversation strategy, and had them practice with the children.

Throughout each session, caregivers were extremely engaged and found the cards to be helpful and easy to use.  By the end, they remarked that the cards had improved their children’s vocabulary and helped them be more selective with the vocabulary they used with their children at home.

The Literacy Toolkit Committee looks forward to another round of workshops with Para Los Niños parents in the spring.