Early Childhood

Providence, R.I., Wins $5 Million to Improve Early Literacy

By Julie Blair — April 05, 2013 1 min read
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Officials in Providence, R.I., are spending $5 million to arm poor families with recording devices in hopes of encouraging them to talk more, and in different ways, with their young children, an attempt to ultimately boost city-wide literacy rates.

The city got the money for a program called Providence Talks by winning the grand prize in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge last month, beating out plans to improve a recycling system in Houston and streamline city government processes in Philadelphia.

“By their fourth birthday, children who grow up in low-income households will have heard 30 million fewer words than their middle- and high-income peers,” the proposal reports, adding that academic progress directly correlates with such conversations. “Providence Talks solves this problem for good.”

Families who volunteer and are already enrolled in Rhode Island’s Universal Newborn Screening program will be asked to have their children ages 4 and under clip small recorders to clothing. Analysts from Brown University in Providence, R.I., will then log how many words are spoken to the child, what vocabulary words are used, and how many interactions they have with adults.

Families will receive the gathered information during monthly coaching visits, at which time they’ll also receive information on community literacy programs.

Pilot studies show such interventions work, the city said in entering the competition.

“Caretakers presented with the date on their child’s vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55 percent on average,” the idea summary states.

To read more about the Mayor’s Challenge and the winners of the competition, click here: //mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org/

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.