Spreading the Words: the Thirty Million Words® Initiative
It’s no secret to speech/language and hearing professionals that children’s early language environments are critical to their speech, language, and academic outcomes. Yet millions of children fail to receive the input they need to be ready for school when they start, and they fall only farther behind as school continues.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Parents, caregivers, speech/language and hearing professionals, teachers, and community members can join in what we at Thirty Million Words® call ‘Spreading the Words.’ By ‘Spreading the Words’ about the power of parents talking to their children to grow their children’s brains, we can ensure every child is ready to learn when they start school.
The Thirty Million Words® Initiative is an evidence-based parent-directed program designed to encourage parents to harness the power of their words to enrich their young children’s language environments, build their brains, and shape their futures. The Thirty Million Words® and Project ASPIRE (created specifically for children with hearing loss) curricula utilize animation and real parent-child video to teach parents about early brain and language development, along with strategies to encourage and support development.
The curricula are supported with LENA® technology, which works as a ‘word pedometer’ to count how much parents are talking with their children and getting their children talking with them. This feedback from the LENA® helps parents track their progress as they advance through the Project ASPIRE and Thirty Million Words® programs.
The Thirty Million Words® and Project ASPIRE curricula offer parents strategies to enrich their interactions with their children without adding more to their already busy and often overstretched lives. When parents are equipped with three key tools – the 3Ts – a world of rich language engagement is unlocked.
Tune In: Pay attention to what your child is focused on or communicating to you and change your words to match. The signals your child gives will change rapidly since her attention span is short while she’s young – staying Tuned In is a dynamic activity!
Talk More: Think of your child’s brain like a piggy bank – every word you say is another penny you invest. There’s no limit to how many words you can invest to fill your child’s bank and build his brain! Be as descriptive as possible to build your child’s vocabulary.
Take Turns: Your child is never too young to have a conversation with you! Respond to your child’s signals to keep the turns going.
Parent talk is the most powerful tool for building children’s brains and sending them to school ready to learn. With a community of professionals, caregivers, and parents ‘Spreading the Words’ about the power of parent talk, every child can get on track for school.
Hear from Shurand, a Thirty Million Words® graduate.
Learn more about the Thirty Million Words® Initiative at tmw.org.
Kristin R. Leffel, BS, is the Director of Policy and Community Partnerships for the Thirty Million Words® Initiative at the University of Chicago. Her primary focus is curriculum development of Thirty Million Words® and Project ASPIRE, program design and implementation, and evaluation. Her academic interests focus on health disparities, particularly the social determinants of health and the health of socially disenfranchised populations.
Dana L. Suskind, MD, is a Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implantation Program, and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words® Initiative. Her research is dedicated to addressing health disparities, specifically early language disparities, through the development of novel intervention programs. She has conceptualized and initiated development and evaluation of two parent-direct, home-visiting interventions: Project ASPIRE and the Thirty Million Words®. These interventions, for parents of children with hearing loss and parents of typically developing children respectively, aim to improve child outcomes through parents’ enrichment of the early language environment.