Engaging Families and Communities to Bridge the Word Gap

This post originally appeared on the Too Small to Fail blog.

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Children begin learning from the moment they are born. By seeing, hearing, and exploring the world around them, particularly through close loving relationships with their families and caregivers, babies’ brains rapidly develop. The more enriching experiences they have with those who love and care for them, the more they grow – especially when words are involved. Research has found that providing infants, toddlers, and young children with consistent, language-rich experiences –talking, reading, and singing – greatly benefits their brain development and school readiness.

However, many families lack access to the types of information and resources that can help them make everyday moments into learning opportunities that are rich in language. Researchers have found that some children are exposed to more language-rich environments than others during the early years, which can result in a gap in the quantity and quality of words that children hear and learn. The richness of children’s language environment can impact school success and outcomes later in life. .

That’s why, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, in partnership with Too Small to Fail, are providing these critical resources to families, caregivers, and early learning providers. Last week, we proudly released  “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day”, a free suite of resources that can help enrich children’s early language experiences by providing tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day beginning from birth and extending into the early years.

This toolkit is a result of a commitment made at the 2014 White House convening on “bridging the word gap.” The resources include:

Talking matters, and, no matter what language you speak – the more words the better. To make these resources as accessible and inclusive as possible, all tip sheets are available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free.

Talking, reading, and singing are teaching. But more than that, talking, reading, and singing are simple gateways to opportunities for children and their families. They are brain building activities that set the foundation for school readiness and school success. These everyday activities are ones that all families and communities can engage in to ensure that their young children have the best start in life.

When families, caregivers and teachers partner to promote children’s early education, children win.

To read more about these resources, or to download them visit the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites or Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Linda Smith is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Kara Dukakis is the Director of Too Small to Fail.

A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not every parent can find the high-quality early learning opportunity that sets their child up for success.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Education released a new report outlining the unmet need for high-quality early learning programs in America. Roughly 6 in 10 four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, and even fewer are enrolled in the highest quality programs.

Unmet Need

While both states and the federal government invest in early learning, these efforts have fallen short of what is needed to ensure that all children can access a high-quality early education that will prepare them for success.

Significant new investments in high-quality early education are necessary to help states, local communities, and parents close the readiness gap that exists between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.

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For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great. While Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race.

And while most children who have access to preschool attend moderate-quality programs, African- American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs and are the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

Building on Progress

To address the unmet need for high-quality preschool, states and the federal government have invested in initiatives to expand access. These investments provide a strong base upon which we can build voluntary, universal access to high-quality early education that will prepare our nation’s students for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Over the past decade, governors from both political parties have pushed for the creation
and expansion of publicly funded preschool programs. Since 2003, states have increased
their investment in preschool by more than 200 percent.

The federal government has also worked to improve the quality and expand early learning through the Head Start program. Twenty states have also received support through the Early Learning Challenge program, which helped states improve early childhood workforce preparation and training, and strengthened health services and family engagement.

Congress took an important step in 2014 to address inequities in access to high-quality preschool by supporting the Preschool Development Grants program, a 4-year, federal-state partnership to expand the number of children enrolled in high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied, but due — in part — to limited funding, only 18 grants were awarded.

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Preschool Development Grants will not cover every child in the funded states; however, these states will be another step closer to the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning across the country. Over the 4-year grant period, and with continued funding from Congress, these states are expecting to enroll an additional 177,000 children in high-quality preschool programs, which will help put children on a path to success in school and in life.

Support for Early Learning

Over the last several years, an impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders have joined together to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs. These groups recognize that investing in high-quality preschool means that more students will graduate from high school, go to college or join the armed or public services, and become contributing, productive members of our society with fewer youth and adults entering the justice system.

The evidence supporting early learning is clear. Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes than those who do not participate.

Expanding early learning — including high-quality preschool — provides society with a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent. About half of the return on investment originates from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

Moving Forward

This year, as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation is at critical moment. Congress can honor this important legacy and moral imperative – as our nation observes ESEA’s 50th anniversary – by reauthorizing a strong education law. This new law must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest children.

By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Enroll Your Child in a High-Quality Early Learning Program

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When I first looked into my son’s eyes, I knew: I was lucky.

But I also knew that raising a child that is prepared for emotional, physical, and academic success wouldn’t be easy. Enrolling my son in a high-quality early learning program would promote his learning and development, making his prospects in school and in life that much brighter.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should consider enrolling your child in high-quality early education:

  1. About 70 percent of the brain is developed by age one and 90 percent is developed by age three. It is during these early years that genes interact with experience, providing a foundation—weak or strong—for all future learning, behavior, and health.
  2. Preschool-aged children have the ability to learn more, and faster, than you might think. Kids have an innate number sense that, by preschool, makes them ready to start learning math.
  3. The early years are important in shaping the long-term health and success of our children and our communities. Economist James Heckman analyzed research of a decades-long study that began in 1972. He found that kids who received full-day care—along with meals, games, and activity—are actually healthier as adults, with lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, than kids who didn’t receive such services.
  4. Well-qualified caregivers and educators are fundamental to high-quality early learning programs. As a parent, you can have peace of mind knowing that your child is safe, and with adults who know how to support your child’s early development.
  5. Supportive learning environments are vital at every juncture—especially during the first five years of your child’s life. Great early learning programs can be tailored for our youngest children, whose brains develop important connections during their formative years.
  6. Studies demonstrate that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
  7. Preschool can help your child to achieve school readiness goals—setting him or her up with skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and life.
  8. Early and regular check-ins and assessments can help families track and celebrate their child’s developmental milestones, and ensure that their children get early and specialized support, if needed.
  9. High-quality early learning is critical to sustaining our country’s economic competitiveness. Children in countries as diverse as Mexico, France, and Singapore have a better chance of receiving preschool education than do children in the United States.
  10. There is a growing recognition that quality matters tremendously when it comes to early learning. Programs that are high-quality have high staff qualifications, including a bachelor of arts for teachers; professional development for teachers and staff; low staff-child ratios and small class sizes; a full-day program; and more.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services continue to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs through the Preschool Development Grants (PDG) competition.

These grants will assist states in building or enhancing their preschool program infrastructure and will help to expand high-quality preschool programs to more 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. Look out for more information about the PDG program now that grants have been awarded. You’ll be able to find out if your community will benefit.

All children—not just some—should have access to high-quality early learning opportunities that prepare them for success in school and beyond. I know that is what I want for my child.

Monica Bates is an Information Resource Specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

What You Missed: Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan Answer Your Questions on Early Education

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Grammy award-winning artist Shakira took to Twitter to answer your questions about the early childhood education.

Shakira, who is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and a strong advocate for high-quality early education, joined Duncan in highlighting $1 billion in new public and private commitments that were announced as part of today’s White House Summit on Early Education.

At the Summit, President Obama reiterated his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every kid in America, and announced the launch of the Invest In Usinitiatitive. The new initaitive challenges public and private partners, business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials, and individuals to build a better nation by expanding high-quality early childhood education.

Take a look at the full #ShakiraEdChat Q&A below, or over on Storify, and check out Shakira’s new PSA videos on InvestInUs.org.

Cameron Brenchley is Senior Digital Strategist for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Helping States Improve and Enhance Early Education for All

High-quality early education shouldn’t just be a privilege for some children—it must be an opportunity for all children in America. We know the foundation of a thriving middle class is access to a strong education for every child beginning in the first few years of life. But right now, the U.S. ranks 28th in the world in preschool access for four-year-old children.

The Obama administration is working to change that.

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced today that 18 states have been awarded new funding, totaling more than $226 million, under the Preschool Development Grants program.

These grants will reach 33,000 children across the U.S. In the first year of the program alone, more than 18,000 additional children will be served in high-quality preschool. Preschool Development Grants will help the 18 winning states to build or enhance their state early learning infrastructure and expand high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities.

There are two types of grants. Development Grants are for states that serve less than 10 percent of four-year-olds. Expansion Grants are for states that serve 10 percent or more of four-year-olds. Check out our fact sheet (link to pdf here) for more information.

The importance of early learning is clear. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Today’s White House Summit on Early Education convenes state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates to highlight collective leadership in support of early education for America’s children.

Leaders at the Summit will share best practices in building public-private partnerships that are expanding early education in communities across the country. Participants will discuss effective strategies and programs that support and bring high-quality early childhood education to scale. Follow this discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #InvestinUS.

And, for more information about the importance of early learning and the steps that the Obama administration is taking to ensure access for all children, check out our Early Learning page.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Join Shakira and Secretary Duncan for a Twitter Q&A on Early Education

For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see a rate of return of $7 or more through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these kids as adults.

Early education is one of the best investments our country can make. Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a solid foundation for success in school.

Tomorrow, President Obama will host a White House Summit on Early Education, announcing new commitments and building on his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every child in America.

As part of the Summit, Grammy award-winning artist Shakira and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET to answer your questions about early education. Shakira is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and has been a strong advocate for high-quality early education.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Learn more about the President’s plan to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, and then join Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET.

This post originally appeared on The White House blog.

Making Critical Investments in Our Youngest Citizens

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The Department of Education has unveiled a new grant opportunity to partner with states and local communities to expand the reach of high-quality preschool. The $250 million grant competition will provide thousands of additional 4-year-old children across the country with a high-quality preschool education. The Obama administration’s Preschool Development Grants program is a critical piece of the President’s plan to boost access to high-quality preschool and support early learning for every child in America, beginning at birth and continuing through school entry.

The return on our dollar is highest when we invest in our youngest children, and we have recent research showing that sufficiently scaled Pre-K programs in cities like Boston and Tulsa are having a significant, positive impact on children’s literacy, language development, and math skills. Still, only approximately 28% of America’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in state preschool programs in the 2012-2013 school year. The high cost of private preschool programs and insufficient funding for public preschool in many communities narrows options for families, especially those in low-income communities.

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool education to every child in America. Last January, he challenged more Americans to join this effort — and governors, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, foundations, and policymakers have responded.

More than 30 states and the District of Columbia increased funding for preschool in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and 10 of these states increased funding by more than 20%. This school year, 11,500 more low-income children in California will enjoy high-quality preschool thanks to the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. The State of Michigan also increased funding for Pre-K by $65 million for the second year in a row, adding more than 10,000 additional seats for 4-year-olds in state Pre-K for the 2014-2015 school year, and more than doubling overall funding for Pre-K in Michigan. Alabama, Connecticut, and Maine, as well as other states and dozens of cities across the country, like San Antonio, New York, Cleveland, and Seattle, have also established new preschool programs or are pushing forward with major expansions.

As we celebrate the expansion of high-quality preschool in states and cities across the country, President Obama continues to call on leadership in Congress to renew our federal commitment to our youngest children, and to the future of our country by partnering with states to provide high-quality Pre-K to every American child. There truly is no better investment in the economic security of our families and our communities than making sure our youngest citizens are ready to succeed in school and in life.

Cecilia Muñoz is an Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

New Preschool Grant Program Will Expand Opportunity to More of America’s Early Learners

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Secretary Arne Duncan interacts with a student at the Hug Me Tight Childlife Center in Pittsburgh. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Across the country, there is a great need for early learning. But the need isn’t just for preschool seats — it’s for high-quality early learning programs that can put children on the path to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Research has shown the powerful benefits of high-quality early education. Children who receive rich early learning experiences are less likely to need special education services. They’re in better health, and they get better jobs. Yet, today, only 30 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. participate in state preschool, and 10 states don’t offer it at all. Among other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks 25th in enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning.

President Obama has issued a call to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. Yesterday, an important down payment was made toward that goal when Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced the availability of funds through the Preschool Development Grants program.

This new $250 million federal program will support states to build, develop, and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families. It will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. All states — including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — are eligible to apply by Oct. 14, 2014.

Secretary Duncan noted, “Through the Preschool Development Grants, we continue our efforts to create educational opportunities that prepare our youngest Americans for success in kindergarten, through elementary school and beyond. This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program — a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.”

He added, “We urge states and communities to seize this opportunity, form partnerships, and begin drafting their proposals for the Preschool Development Grants program, because providing high-quality early learning opportunities is the most important single step we can take to improve the future of our young people.”

Secretary Duncan highlighted the new grant program yesterday during a trip to Pittsburgh, where he joined Mayor William Peduto in a visit to the Hug Me Tight Childlife Center and a community conversation at Hill House’s Kaufmann Center.

While at Hug Me Tight, Secretary Duncan toured classrooms, met with early childhood education providers, parents, and community members, and engaged in arts activities with some of the city’s youngest learners. Following the visit to the center, Secretary Duncan and Mayor Peduto participated in a discussion on early learning hosted by the city of Pittsburgh and the National League of Cities.

For more information about the new Preschool Development Grants program and how your state may apply, visit here. For more information on early learning at the U.S. Department of Education, visit here.

Tiffany Taber is Chief of Staff for Communications Development at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

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Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy forOutstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

In a press release from The Fred Rogers Company, the nonprofit producer of Peg + Cat, Paul Siefken, the company’s vice president of broadcast and digital media, said, “We’re delighted that the Emmy Awards committee has recognized Peg + Cat as an exceptional series with much to offer for today’s preschoolers and families.” In its premiere week last October, the television series reached 2.2 million children; in a typical month between October and May, more than 10 million individuals ages 2 and up, as well as 6.7 million households, viewed the show’s episodes.

Like all Ready To Learn initiatives, Peg + Cat employs a variety of media to engage children and families in early learning and school readiness, with a particular focus on low-income children. In addition to the television series, the Peg + Cat multi-platform media experience employs interactive mobile and online content, including games and other online resources at pbskids.org/peg, and additional interactive features, including steaming video, parent and educator resources, and mobile apps. In the first season, the online game collection received nearly 14 million pageviews and a Peg + Cat mobile app was downloaded more than 42,000 times. Community engagement with schools is also an important outreach strategy, and to date more than 1,200 educators and 15,000 children and families have participated in 88 school events.

Peg + Cat is partially funded through a $71 million RTL grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service. The RTL program encourages and supports the development and use of television and digital media to promote early learning and school readiness for young children and their families, as well as the dissemination of educational outreach programs and materials to promote school readiness. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service are one of three RTL grant recipients, each of which received awards in 2010.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

Reposted from the Huffington Post.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation’s schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. For many kids, the meals they get at school may be the only nutritious meals they receive that day—and when children receive proper nourishment, they are not only healthier, but they also have better school attendance and perform better academically. It’s not enough, though, to make the meals healthier—we must ensure that children have access to those healthier foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized a program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), that can help schools achieve their educational goals by ensuring that children in low-income communities have access to healthy meals at school so they are ready to learn. In this program, schools agree to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA. Designed to ease the burden of administering a high volume of applications for free and reduced price meals, CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school, and household levels, which saves staff time and resources for cash-strapped school districts.

Starting this upcoming school year, the program is available to schools across the country. The decision to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision is a local one, and schools must decide for themselves whether this program is right for them. In order to give schools more time to make that decision, we recently extended the deadline to participate in School Year 2014-2015. Last month, USDA announced that schools now have until August 31 to enroll.

State educational agencies and local school districts often use data collected through the National School Lunch Program to carry out certain eligibility requirements for other programs, including Title I for schools serving students from low-income families. The Department of Education recently released guidance highlighting the range of options that schools have for implementing these requirements while also participating in CEP—and many districts already have successfully implemented Title I requirements using data that incorporate Community Eligibility. We strongly encourage schools and school districts that have not yet adopted CEP to review ED Guidance on Community Eligibility and Title I and USDA’s Resources on Community Eligibility, and carefully consider the positive impact that CEP can have for your students, schools, and communities.

This program has already been working in nearly 4,000 pilot schools across the country, some of which are already in their third year of participation and seeing tremendous results. Schools that participated in the pilot phase of this program saw increased participation and revenue from breakfast and lunch programs:

  • In Washington, D.C.’s public schools, Lindsey Palmer, school programs manager for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, outlined why CEP has worked so well for D.C.’s schools; including reduced stigma, reduction in administrative functions, better prediction of federal school meals funding amounts based on previous participation, more resources available to improve the meals and overall program, and better reach to those students who really needed the benefits of the school meal program.
  • In New York, Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, also offered high praise. His district can better focus efforts on food- insecure students and provide greater access to meals with the help of CEP. According to Superintendent Spring, his schools have enjoyed an increase in attendance since adopting CEP, which generally translates into higher test scores and improved academic achievement.

We want to give every child an opportunity to learn and thrive at school. CEP has the potential to bring the promise of healthy school meals to over 3,000 school districts nationwide. The Departments of Agriculture and Education have been working together to make sure that every eligible school knows about CEP and has the information they need to determine if it is right for them. To learn more visit USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Website.

See what others have to say about the program.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and Tom Vilsack is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Empowering Our Children by Bridging the Word Gap

Reposted from the White House blog.

Research shows that during the first years of life, a poor child hears roughly 30 million fewer total words than her more affluent peers. Critically, what she hears has direct consequences for what she learns. Children who experience this drought in heard words have vocabularies that are half the size of their peers by age 3, putting them at a disadvantage before they even step foot in a classroom.

This is what we call the “word gap,” and it can lead to disparities not just in vocabulary size, but also in school readiness, long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability even decades later.

It’s important to note that talking to one’s baby doesn’t just promote language development. It promotes brain development more broadly. Every time a parent or caregiver has a positive, engaging verbal interaction with a baby – whether it’s talking, singing, or reading – neural connections of all kinds are strengthened within the baby’s rapidly growing brain.

That’s why today we are releasing a new video message from President Obama focused on the importance of supporting learning in our youngest children to help bridge the word gap and improve their chances for later success in school and in life. The President’s message builds on the key components of his Early Learning Initiative, which proposes a comprehensive plan to provide high-quality early education to children from birth to school entry.

The President’s message is part of a week-long campaign organized in partnership with Too Small to Faila joint initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, to raise awareness of the importance of closing the word gap. The video series follows the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families that explored innovative solutions to help expand opportunities for working families and businesses. The Summit explored a wide range of issues, including expanding access to affordable child care and early education opportunities for families.

Our children’s future is so important, bipartisan leaders are all doing their part to help close the word gap. Watch messages from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Cindy McCain, and share these messages with your networks to help spread the word about this cause.

This fall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services will team up with Too Small to Fail and the Urban Institute to host an event designed to increase public understanding and make progress on this important issue. This event will highlight initiatives across the country focused on bridging the word gap, including:

  • Too Small to Fail’s Talking is Teaching public action campaign aimed at educating parents about the importance of talking to one’s baby and testing out community-level approaches, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Too Small to Fail is working in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation. This campaign will engage pediatricians, business owners, faith-based leaders, librarians, and others to share with parents and caregivers how simple actions (e.g., describing objects seen during a walk or bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories) can significantly improve a baby’s ability to learn new words and concepts.
  • Georgia’s Talk with Me Baby, a scalable, public action strategy aimed at increasing early exposure to language and public understanding of the primacy of language. This program provides professional development to nurses, the nation’s largest healthcare workforce, who will coach new and expectant parents to deliver “language nutrition” to their kids. With funding from the Greater United Way of Atlanta, this collaborative effort brings together the Georgia Department of Public Health and Department of Education, Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Georgia Tech.
  • The City of Providence’s Providence Talks, which provides members of the Providence community, where two-thirds of kindergarteners enroll below national literacy standards, with home-based caregiver coaching interventions. These interventions harness innovative technologies from the LENA Foundation, including word “pedometers” that record and provide quantitative feedback to caregivers on the number of words spoken and the number of conversations had with children. Providence Talks is hosted by Mayor Taveras of Providence, Rhode Island, and is supported by the Bloomberg Foundation.
  • The University of Chicago, School of Medicine’s Thirty Million Words® Initiative with its tiered intervention approach to optimizing caregiver-child talk at the individual, community, and population levels. Researchers recently received funds from the PNC Foundation to support a five-year longitudinal study of the program’s impact.

To learn more about the Administration’s commitment to early childhood education, click here. Stay tuned for more details on our fall event. And if you’re interested in joining this effort or sharing the great work you’re already doing, email us at wordgap@ostp.gov.

Maya Shankar is Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
 

Learning by Doing: Hands-On Experiences Help Children Learn and Dream

I recently visited a great hands-on, experiential learning site for young children.  The IntelliZeum, the brainchild of Executive Director Blanca Enriquez, is a one-of-a-kind interactive learning environment, created in El Paso, Texas 10 years ago. This stimulating learning center provides enriching experiences for the lucky area Head Start children who visit twice each year.

There were so many things I liked about the IntelliZeum. Each specialized learning area within the IntelliZeum has different clothing, tools, and unique things to do.  Children may enter a “space center” where they dress in space suits. They may visit a pretend doctor’s office where they don white coats and stethoscopes.  When the children travel to the “Arctic room,” it’s freezing cold; in the “rainforest room,” it’s hot and muggy.  In the “electricity and water center” they discover how water makes power — and they learn about water conservation.

The IntelliZeum sets high expectations for what children can learn. And children learn about all kinds of things, from parts of the solar system, to types of dinosaurs, to names of tools used for building construction. Before each visit, children are prepared with vocabulary and background knowledge so they can get the most out of the experience. And after the visit, learning is reinforced in the classroom by incorporating the concepts and rich oral language into reading, math, science, technology, social studies, and fine arts activities.

The learning environments are sophisticated and designed to stretch children’s minds, encouraging them — even at age 3 and 4 — to start thinking about interesting and important future careers. I know children leave dreaming of becoming doctors, architects, engineers, pilots, or reporters.

Something else that I really liked was the intentional inclusion of children with disabilities. A child in a wheelchair can get inside the time capsule for traveling to the age of the dinosaurs. The underwater “ocean,” an area enclosed by three giant aquariums, is also handicapped accessible, so a child in a wheel chair can wheel right in while the other children scramble under one of the aquariums. But all the kids end up in the same place.

I wish engaging learning centers like the IntelliZeum could be available to all children. But parents can help their children engage in rich learning experiences — at home and during daily activities.

For example, instead of watching television, families can take a trip to the airport, visit a train station, or observe a construction site in the neighborhood and take advantage of teachable moments within these experiences. Even errands to the store can be turned into solid learning experiences by exposing children to vocabulary words, letting the children participate by picking out and weighing fruits and vegetables, taking photos with a parent’s smartphone of something they like, or talking to a person at the store. We need to get back to experiential learning that is real, exciting, and meaningful — and summer can be a great time to do that.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.