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Children need to hear approximately 21,000 words per day for their vocabularies to develop at an appropriate pace. But research has shown that children growing up in less affluent homes hear significantly fewer words each day than their peers in middle and high-income households.

This word gap quickly adds up. In fact, by the time a child growing up in a low-income household reaches their fourth birthday, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers in middle- and high-income households.

Providence Talks – a free, confidential and completely voluntary early intervention program – is our plan to solve this national challenge, starting right here in Providence.

Here’s how it works: participating families receive free access to a “word pedometer” and bi-weekly coaching from trained home visitors. The “word pedometer”, developed by the Colorado-based LENA Research Foundation, filters out television and background noise and develops a comprehensive picture of a child’s daily auditory environment, including adult word count and the number of conversational interactions the child engages in during the course of the day.

Participating families receive these data during a bi-weekly coaching visit. Families also receive targeted coaching and information on existing community resources like read-aloud programs at neighborhood libraries or special events at local children’s museums.

Early results demonstrate that simple access to information can be powerful. In one pilot study, caretakers presented with data on their child’s vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55% on average.

In short, Providence Talks proposes to do something never before attempted at the municipal level: to intervene at a critically early age, from birth to age four, to close the 30 million word gap at a city-wide scale and ensure that every child in Providence enters a kindergarten classroom ready to achieve at extraordinary levels.

This is a pressing issue at the local and national level. Here in Providence, only one out of three kindergarten registrants enters the classroom at the appropriate literacy benchmark. Across our nation, we know that our teachers and schools work incredibly hard to catch our children up to grade level, often starting on the very first day of school.

Providence Talks will unlock the incredible teaching power of parents and caretakers, empowering them with the tools they need to ensure their child enters school ready to succeed.

Providence Talks is generously funded by a $5 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Providence Talks was the grand prize winner in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2012-2013 Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. For more information on the Mayors Challenge, click here.