New Report Tells Parents and Early Childhood Teachers How Much They Should Be Talking to Children


For more information, contact:
Ivan Ross, Senior Senior Marketing Manager

Research shows that back-and-forth interactions boost brain development and school readiness, and the disparities between home settings and child care centers are alarming.

Louisville, Colo. — LENA, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization whose one-of-a-kind “talk pedometer” technology helps communities accelerate language development in children birth to three, has published a groundbreaking new report called Inside Early Talk. Aggregating data on the language environments of over 10,000 children, the report establishes 40 back-and-forth interactions per hour as the new benchmark for caregivers for optimal brain development.

The LENA device is a wearable recorder that collects a full day of a child’s audio environment. LENA’s software then translates the audio into data-rich, actionable reports for teachers, child care providers, and parents. The reports include information on the number of adult words, child vocalizations, and back-and-forth interactions, or conversational turns, between adults and children. This objective feedback helps adults to better understand children’s language needs and to more effectively adapt their communication strategies.

“The things we really want to see in the classroom are linked to this,” said Dr. Libby Doggett, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education. “This isn’t just a tool for increasing language. It may be a tool for increasing the whole quality of the classroom and the children’s experiences.”

Prior research from a peer-reviewed longitudinal study LENA conducted shows that conversational turns between adults and very young children are one of the most predictive metrics of child outcomes and school readiness. The amount of conversation children experience during the first few years of life is related to their brain structure and function, as well as their IQ in adolescence.

The new report, Inside Early Talk, draws on data from over 10,000 children to reach six new findings, including the following:

  • 40 conversational turns per hour is a new benchmark for caregivers. LENA’s researchers have shown that the potential benefit of increasing serve-and-return interactions begins plateauing above 40 conversational turns per hour. Up to 40 conversational turns per hour, however, each increase of two turns per hour is associated with a one-point increase in Full Scale IQ in middle school.
  • Home settings are consistently higher in interactions than child care settings. At home, children engage in 73% more conversational turns and hear 28% more adult words than children in a traditional child care environment.
  • In child care, interactions are the lowest when they matter most. The period between 18 and 24 months is especially predictive of increased IQ and verbal comprehension in adolescence. Alarmingly, LENA’s analysis reveals that this is the exact age window when they’re experiencing the least amount of interaction. Only 4% of children in child care centers average 40 or more back-and-forth interactions per hour, compared to 34% in home settings.
  • There are large disparities in the language environments children are experiencing in child care. LENA’s technology does more than show the quality of a classroom’s overall language environment. It drills down to the experience of each individual child. Even in classrooms that are full of back-and-forth interactions, many children spend much of the day in language isolation. That means it’s ill-advised to make assumptions about equity of access to interaction and learning opportunities.

“I’m really hopeful,” said Dr. Jill Gilkerson, Chief Research and Evaluation Officer at LENA, “that these types of data-driven insights can inform decisions and initiatives that will increase equitable access to high-quality, interactive talk environments.” The full report is available for download at In addition, the accompanying webinar can be streamed on demand at

About LENA

LENA is a national nonprofit on a mission to transform children’s futures through early talk technology and data-driven programs. Used by researchers, clinicians, community organizations, and early childhood education organizations all over the world, LENA technology measures a child’s language environment and provides vital feedback to parents and professionals. LENA envisions a world where every child benefits from positive relationships full of responsive interactions.