In 1995, researchers Betty Hart, Ph.D. and Todd Risley, Ph.D. uncovered a startling correlation between family income, household auditory environments and success in school and beyond. Their discovery, that low-income children hear less than one third as many words per hour than children in high-income families, has long frustrated policy-makers and early childhood interventionists determined to close the word gap and ensure all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Today, thanks to new advances in information technology and a successful network of statewide home visitation programs, Providence is poised to unlock the power of parental talk citywide, eliminating the vocabulary gap in Providence and setting all children on the path to success in kindergarten and beyond.

National data show that children in low-income households hear approximately 616 words per hour, nearly half as many words as heard by children in middle-income households (1,251) and less than one third as many words heard by children in high-income households (2,153).

For a child’s vocabulary to develop on an appropriate trajectory, children need to hear at least 21,000 words per day – the rough equivalent of reading Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat nearly a dozen times a day. But children in the lowest income bracket miss that benchmark by more than 5,000 words every day. That means that low income households across Providence need a collective boost of approximately 5 million words per day to close the income-correlated word gap.

Providence Talks is pleased to be partnering with Brown University to design and implement a rigorous, third-party evaluation of both short- and long-term impacts of Providence Talks. Our belief is that participants will demonstrate gains not only in adult word count and conversational turn count, but on key long-term metrics like third grade reading proficiency and even high school graduation rates.

Our Advisory Board

Toby Shepherd
Executive Director, Nowell Academy
Anne Fernald, Ph.D.
Josephine Knotts Knowles Professor in Human Biology, Stanford University
Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph.D.
Co-Director, University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences
Gail Nayowith
Executive Director, SCO Family of Services
Dana L. Suskind, M.D.
Associate Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics, University of Chicago Medical Center. 
Director, Pediatric Cochlear Implantation Program, University of Chicago Medical Center
Angel Taveras
Former Mayor of Providence
Betty R. Vohr, M.D.
Director, Women & Infants Hospital Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic
Patrick Vivier, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Health Services, Policy & Practice and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, The Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University.
Public Health & Public Policy, Pediatrics, Hasbro Children’s Hospital
Steven F. Warren, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies Professor, Department of Applied Behavioral Science, University of Kansas. Courtesy Professor, Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Kansas Medical Center
Kristine Campagna
Manager, Newborn Screening and Early Childhood Programs, Rhode Island Department of Health