I have had the good fortune to attend several pediatric conferences in the past few weeks, and I hope to share over several posts some of the more interesting new research and advances in childhood development and public health campaigns with you all.
I recently attended a session in a conference about my state’s efforts to improve public health outcomes through impacting disparities in school-aged children’s performance. Essentially, there is data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that has essentially said when we compare college graduates to individuals who have not finished high school (and no, I don’t know if or how homeschoolers were included in any of this data or student who have attended technical programs), this is what was found:
- college graduates live at least five years longer than those who have not finished high school (female college graduates 83.5 years versus females who have not finished high school 78.4 years; male college graduates 79.7 years versus males who have not finished high school 72.9).
- the infant mortality rate for infants who are born to women who never graduated high school is nearly double that of women who graduated from college
- college graduates have a 1.3 percent reduction in diabetes, a 2.2 percent decrease in heart disease, a 5 percent reduction in obesity, and a 12 percent reduction in smoking compared to individuals who have not finished high school.
The biggest predictor to academic success is the quality and quantity of words spoken to the baby in the first three years of life. (NOTE: This is from research; for those of you who are concerned regarding this statement and Waldorf Early Years education please see my comments in the comment box below). There has been research regarding “The 30 Million Word Gap” stretching back to a study published in 1995 by Hart and Risley and publicized since then in such places as The New York Times. Essentially, it has been found that there could be a difference of 30 million words in the language environment over the period of the first three years of a child’s life. This means that children from vulnerable families enter kindergarten with half the vocabulary of their peers. In the public school environment, there have been links between third grade proficiency as strong indicators of academic and economic success, a decreased risk of incarceration, pregnancy, violence and unemployment and the improvement of health and less risk of chronic disease, so this gap in language becomes more critical. Public school third graders who cannot read at grade level are four times more likely to drop out of high school. In my state, only 34 percent of the children are reading proficiently and on grade level in third grade (which also makes me wonder if it is only 34 percent, which means the majority of third graders are “at risk” , should we be measuring reading proficiency in third grade? However, I guess that is another topic!)
Early language exposure is critical for a baby’s healthy brain development and seen as part of increasing a small child’s vocabulary, school readiness and yes, success. The most effective thing a parent can do is talk with their baby. A screen will NOT take the place of talking with a baby or toddler or preschoolers.
So, my state is rolling out the first state-wide public health campaign in the United States to increase adequate language for brain development, called “language nutrition”. It will emphasize the power of interaction and that NO ELECTRONIC DEVICE can match engaged human interaction. The partners collaborating on this are many, including Emory School of Nursing, the Marcus Autism Center, Department of Education, Bright Start, Georgia Tech, Talk With Me Baby, Get Georgia Reading, the Atlanta Speech School, Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy, Emory University School of Medicine, The Georgia Coalition for English Learners, Georgia Department of Public Health, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and will pattern off the model of the “Back to Sleep” campaign and other public health campaigns. You can see more about the campaign at the Talk With Me Baby website.
Nurses are especially being targeted as changemakers for families in this campaign as 99 percent of expecting and new parents will see a nurse at some point between the 3rd trimester of pregnancy through the first year of life. The goal is to help parents see that they are their baby’s first and best teacher and to give parents strategies to overcome any barriers to language acquisition for their children. In our state, 30 percent of children are in childcare but 70 percent are not in childcare or are in childcare in an informal setting, so parents have to believe that they can make an impact on their child’s language abilities (and turn off their phones! This was cited over and over by the health care providers in my course as a source of frustration in trying to connect with parents and in trying to get parents to connect with their babies and toddlers!)
There have been several projects similar to this in different areas of the United States, including The 30 Million Word Project, Providence Talks (based in Providence, Rhode Island) and Too Small To Fail, but this is the first state-wide campaign. My international readers may find it strange that issues such as these are often addressed at the state level and not the federal level as a result of our governmental structure. Overall, it will be interesting to see what happens as a result of this campaign over the next few years. I believe the entirety of the campaign will take complete effect by 2020.