Parent Profile: Kristen Rhodes finds community, concrete feedback in LENA Start program

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Mornings used to be for coffee and contemplation in the Rhodes household.

Kristen and her husband David would make breakfast for their daughter Hazel and eat together quietly.

“We’re not morning people,” she said, laughing. “I used to be in my own little world. But now I talk in detail about what I’m doing with Hazel — ‘I’m starting the oatmeal, I’m scrambling the eggs.’

Dictating daily activities is a skill she learned at the LENA Start program in Huntsville, Alabama, run through the School Readiness Department at Huntsville City Schools.

“I started worrying about Hazel around her first birthday. She wasn’t really making baby noises that much. I’m not a very extroverted or talkative person, and I realized I could be a contributing factor to why she wasn’t talking,” Kristen explained.

She’d read the research about how talk builds babies’ brains , and knew she should be talking more with Hazel. She just didn’t know how.

“I could read all day about how to talk more, but it’s so much easier to have a program to go to weekly — the teachers there are so wonderful and encouraging,” she said. “I learned very specific ways to talk more.”

She found the most helpful tool to be the weekly recording session, which measures exactly how much language Hazel hears and interacts with, then generates a detailed report.

“Having concrete feedback has made a huge difference for me and my husband. We started out at the beginning in the 10th percentile for words and turns. Now, at nine recordings in, we’re up near the 75th percentile,” Kristen said.

The reports showed her that the family talked the least in the morning, so they made a big effort to increase their words and turns right when Hazel wakes up.

“Hazel is definitely improving, and this is saving us a lot of effort in interventions down the line,” Kristen said. “She’s really starting to understand the back and forth of conversation a lot more.”

That’s the kind of success that her LENA Start group loves to celebrate.

“We became a pretty close-knit little group. We’re all going along on a similar journey in regards to watching our children grow,” she said.

When we spoke to Kristen, her group had just a few weeks of class left before graduation, and Kristen was busy recruiting other parents for upcoming sessions.

“I tell everybody I can about LENA Start, because I think it’s so beneficial to participate in a program like this,” she said. “I would not have thought that language development would affect everything in Hazel’s elementary school experience and beyond — and that we could support that, just by making these subtle changes early on.”

Learn more about how Huntsville City Schools is implementing LENA Start and explore how the program is boosting kindergarten readiness for children.

LENA Team

The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers and linguists.

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