A campaign in Onondaga County aimed at giving parents in the tools they need to promote early brain and language development in their babies is starting to see success after its launch two years ago. More than 1,000 tote bags filled with information and books and even a couple of toys have been dropped off by trained home visitors at households already receiving other services through the county and its partners.
Director of the Early Childhood Alliance Laurie Black says the Talking is Teaching program is a fun, easy way to motivate parents who may not know it’s never too early to start talking, reading, and singing with their babies.
"It seems very simple, but parents absolutely love the materials. They feel very empowered by the message. They shift in their thinking that it isn't that complex in the early years, that they actually have the skills as a parent to teach their childen the colors, to teach their children the alphabet."
An evaluation by Syracuse University's Maxwell School X-lab found that far more parents receiving the material understood that reading and talking starts at birth, and that those households increased weekly reading with their children 41 percent more than those not in the program. Black says this is critical for children to come ready for school, not behind.
"When we say behind, it means they may not have had a very robust early literacy experience. They haven't heard enough language, they haven't been read to enough. When a child comes behind to school, we have to catch that child up. Often times, it's a significant challenge to catch that child up."
Black says the proliferation of technology like smart phones and tablets into little hands is also causing some delays.
"Screentime is taking away from speech development. Another developmental milestone is fine motor development...the ability to write and use crayons. Because we're doing a lot of swiping with our phones and not as much writing, we see some delays popping up. We want to empower parents with the knowledge about the importance of the two-way dialogue. That's how we build childrens' vocabulary and their language development."
She says more engagement with a child can counteract that. The Talking is Teaching campaign has also partnered with child care providers, libraries, doctors, school districts, and human service agencies to get the word out. Interactive signs celebrating the program will be dedicated this Friday at Wegmans playground in Onondaga Lake park at 10:30. In addition, children’s author Doreen Cronin will host a public story time at 1:00 p-m at Studio-B dance at 318 First Street in Liverpool.