Parents on virtual LENA Start classes: “Now I know 10 families when I drop my kids off at school.”


Best Memories graduation

Last year when we quickly shifted to offer our partners virtual options for implementing LENA Start, we knew we were joining with them in an experiment. Could the success of our evidence-based program, particularly the community building and sharing aspects, be replicated in a virtual format?

Now, many months into virtual delivery, our partners have amazed us with their creative ideas for engaging families virtually (learn more about the strategies they use). We also have enough data and feedback from families to get our first insights into how well the virtual program is working and, just as importantly, how the adaptations have been received. Encouragingly, our quantitative data show that families participating in LENA Start virtually are seeing similar benefits to families who participated in the pre-pandemic, in person version.

In our first round of survey data from families who completed the program virtually:

  • More than 90% reported it was easy to participate in sessions online or by phone.
  • Only 6% reported internet connectivity as a barrier to attending.
  • Consistent with in-person participants, more than 90% of families think that all families should participate in LENA Start.

To gain a more personal perspective we also spoke with four parents who shared their experiences with virtual LENA Start classes hosted by Best Memories Academy in Florida:

Natalee McKenzie

Natalee McKenzie participated in LENA Start classes with her two-year-old daughter Hadley and her eight-month-old son Andrew. She works as a program specialist for an emotional and behavioral unit at a local elementary school, so she was intrigued to try the program and monitor for behavior change in her own children.

The virtual aspect is pretty cool, because now I know 10 families when I drop my kids off at school. I recognize them, and we talk more to each other than just saying a random ‘Good morning.’ Several kids are in the toddler class at the center with my daughter, so a few parents and I will strategize together. We might say, “I’m having trouble with this, what do you do?” With the virtual aspect, I got to know the parents of the other kids.”

Deborah Mills

Deborah Mills attended the class with her partner Ryan Johnston, then-infant son Cooper Johnston, and teenager step-daughter Taylor Johnston. She first heard about LENA when researching child care facilities for Cooper. She was thrilled to learn that teachers in the center participated in LENA Grow, practice-based professional development on early talk for ECE teachers. After seeing the program’s parent reports, she was eager to participate in LENA Start and get her own data.

“I felt the data was a great tool to engage my husband, because this program isn’t something he would necessarily be interested in participating in. He listened while I attended the session, and he realized that isn’t just me saying we should talk more with our son, it’s the data saying that it’s a good idea. He believed it more with the data. He could see in the report that talking is good, and we should keep doing it.

“The revelation was that there were days when we recognized that one or more us — my husband, my step-daughter, or I — were working on a project, and that hurt our numbers. It was harder for one person to sustain the high numbers. Those were ahas!”

"I got to meet a lot of parents, and it was nice to build that bond with somebody, since we have not been able to get out this year.”

-Nathaly Hernandez

Nathaly Hernandez

Nathaly Hernandez attended the class with her two-year-old daughter Mikaela. When she began the program, her daughter was not very verbal, only saying one or two word sentences. During the program, her vocabulary and verbal skills expanded, and she began saying four to five word sentences.

“As a parent, it’s super beneficial to see results, to see the numbers, to have that physically in hand, as opposed to thinking that you’re doing great. I’ve told so many people about the program. I would love to do it again, it’s really fun. I got to meet a lot of parents, and it was nice to build that bond with somebody, since we have not been able to get out this year.

“…The biggest change [in my behavior] is just to be more consistent. You don’t notice little things that you do or don’t do. This helped me to set a goal for myself every week. We’re reading a lot more, before bed every night now we’re reading books.”

Stephanie Defeo

Stephanie Defeo attended the LENA Start classes with her husband Dylan and her daughter Jolie. She works part-time as a Speech Language Pathologist at Best Memories. She found the program to be a helpful tool to build partnerships with families in her coaching work.

“I joined because I’m the SLP at the daycare. I treat a lot of the kids who went through the program…
Before, I’d have to explain to the parents what was going on when I gave them home programs. But now, they understand it. They know the Talking Tips. If every child that started early intervention speech therapy were able to start with this program, I truly believe therapy would be shorter. It’s so helpful when parents are able to be educated through a program.”

Looking for virtual family engagement ideas?

Join our Partner Success Team to learn about practical strategies that have worked for our partners, and get your creative, problem-solving juices flowing as you design your own approach.

Register for the webinar


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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