LENA and multiple affiliates of Parents as Teachers, a MIECHV-approved home visiting organization, are working together to promote optimal early development for children by supporting and training parents and caregivers.
LENA focuses on increasing interactive talk with children during the early years of life, because talk has been proven to be a key factor in brain development. When used in tandem, LENA programs and PAT home-visits offer a comprehensive intervention for families. Integrated into any LENA program is the Developmental Snapshot, a normed and validated language development assessment approved by PAT’s national office as a child developmental measure.
LENA technology accurately tracks the number of words and conversational turns children experience at home. This data is then provided to parents and home visitors in easy-to-read, actionable reports. Home visitors can use the reports to gain insight into parent-child communication throughout the day and set personalized goals with families around areas of growth. Coaching modules are short and flexible, designed to integrate seamlessly with existing curricula.
“The data shows parents how impactful they can be,” Patti Learman, program director for Parents as Teachers in Guilford County, North Carolina, said. “LENA provides a visible way for us to demonstrate to parents that they’re increasing conversations, and reading time, and all the other things we’re already sharing with parents through PAT.”
Group Connections with LENA Start
The PAT program in Guilford County is part of a collaborative, county-wide initiative called Ready for School, Ready for Life with the goal of ensuring all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Currently, more than 1 in 3 children in Guilford County enter kindergarten lacking grade-level literacy skills.
Learman chose LENA Start, a series of parent-group classes that teach strategies to strengthen early talk, to complement the existing PAT program. LENA and PAT are not only philosophically aligned to leverage parents’ power to be the change in their children’s lives, but also recognize the importance of meeting parents where they are and focusing on individualized growth. Both the LENA and PAT curriculums are designed to equip parents with tools to increase interaction, and educate them about child development and shared book reading. The curriculums complement and reinforce each other, increasing the likelihood that parents will implement changes at home.
“The parents are really excited to share their successes and struggles with the parent educators,” Learman said. “The parent educators tie whatever the PAT activity or lesson is to what parents have been learning with LENA, because we’re talking about the same things.”
While LENA Start helps to enrich home-visiting conversations, it also provides common ground to facilitate relationships between parents, satisfying the PAT group connections requirement. Because the classes take place over 13 consecutive weeks, families are able to quickly form strong and lasting bonds while broadening their community supports.
“The families were able to build more of a relationship with each other, because they were doing LENA every week,” Learman explained. “The LENA curriculum encourages you to talk to your partner. They really seemed to support each other.”
Amplifying early language in PAT home visits
While some organizations like Learman’s implement the LENA Start model to reach groups of parents, LENA Home incorporates easily into home visits, having been designed specifically to add an early-language focus to an existing home visiting program.
“LENA Home went hand-in-hand with what we were already doing,” said Yolanda Lewis, PAT coordinator for a school district in North Texas. “We’re able to further our curriculum through outside collaborations like this and help our parents even more.”
Lewis coordinates Parents as Teachers for the Wichita Falls ISD, which serves 14,000 students and families, including many who live at the local air force base. About 62 percent of students in the district are eligible for free and reduced lunch. With the support of community funders who identified early language as a key focus area, Lewis’ PAT program added LENA Home last year. They are one of five partner sites in the state using LENA Home under the leadership of the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services.
“The LENA reports help parents to continue making progress with their children and help us really get that buy-in. We’re using data as an incentive to help them progress and promote the language/literacy piece,” Lewis said.
The LENA reports — which show the number of adult words, conversational turns, and amount of electronic noise — provide a window into the home for parent educators, and rich material for discussion.
“When you actually see your words and turns on paper, it’s quite different than what you think — this was an eye-opener for some of our families,” she said. In the future, Lewis plans to use the LENA data — like stats on reading minutes — as a way for families to earn PAT credit.
Key metrics for every stakeholder
Along with capturing the number of words and turns, LENA tracks the number of minutes parents report reading with their children. During 2017, parents participating in LENA Start reported increasing their reading time with their children by 65 percent. This and other high-level data are available to managers and program directors through LENA Online, a secure online portal available in every version of LENA.
“Sharing the data with funders and stakeholders is the biggest piece for us,” Lewis said. “They get excited when a program spearheads something like this, because we’re doing what we can to provide extra resources for families. For us, it’s understanding how we can further our parents not just through our curriculum, but through outside collaborations — in this community, that’s what we do.”