When the pandemic started, Lily Garcia was working from home while also caring for her then 2-year-old son. A year later, she found herself performing the same juggling act, this time with her infant daughter, Mia. For the parents of so-called “pandemic babies,” it’s an all-too-familiar scenario.
Lily lives in Phoenix with her husband, Ruben. In addition to their younger daughter and son, they also have a 10-year-old. Before the pandemic started, they found themselves at their local Phoenix Public Library branch all the time. Since then, though, Lily says finding enrichment activities has been challenging.
“We honestly just do everything at home, but I feel bad because I can’t give them my undivided attention,” she said. “My husband and I always do our best to make sure one of us is available, but it’s not easy. I look for online programs that we can do virtually.”
Lily says the opportunity to participate in LENA Start, when Mia was about 4 months old, came at just the right time. It was at a virtual story time event that she learned about the library’s LENA Start program, which they call “1, 2, 3 Talk with Me.” The program’s tagline is one that LENA loves: Talk builds babies’ brains.
“Talking makes a huge impact, and the parents just all seem to get that,” said Laura Easley, Early Literacy Outreach Specialist and LENA Start coordinator with the Phoenix Public Library. “They want to do more for their kids. They’ve taken action. They think, ‘Hey, this kid’s at home all day now. I need something!’”
Did you know?
Families who participate in virtual LENA Start classes enjoy the same positive outcomes as families who attended in-person classes.
The Phoenix Public Library first brought LENA Start to its families in 2019. Since then, the program has reached over 200 families and continues to scale its impact annually. Like all LENA Start implementations across the country and around the world, “1, 2, 3 Talk with Me” helps caregivers measure their child’s language environment with LENA technology and uses the 14 Talking Tips to promote interactive talk.
Because her middle child had been identified as experiencing speech delays, Lily already had experience with various language programs through the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP).
“I feel like I learned more from this program than I did from the state,” she said. “When I did LENA, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! I wish I would’ve known these little things with my older children.’ Because it really does make a world of a difference.”
What are those little things Lily’s referring to?
For one, she says she had been always been aware of the guidance that infants should have limited screen time. However, the message didn’t really hit home until she saw her LENA Reports.
“I did home in on the screen time when my son was going through a speech delay,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I took the program that it finally clicked and it made sense, because I was able to see it on the report, that when you have more screen time there’s less interaction. That to me was very impactful. There’s these missed opportunities.”
Another of the 14 Talking Tips that Laurie says the families have taken to: “Wait for their response.” Hearing adult words is important, but conversational turns are paramount. A growing body of research makes that clear. When it comes to jumpstarting activity in growing brains, waiting for a child to respond can make a big difference.
“I really go about it from the science part first,” Laurie said. “I want to give you a way that you can be actionable, that you can look at something and say, ‘This is where I can improve something that will help my child.’ And it’s something that you’re doing every day. You just have to learn how to be intentional about it, and this program really gives you that.”
The Phoenix Public Library’s LENA Start program is funded by the state of Arizona’s early childhood agency, called First Things First and the Phoenix Public Library Foundation.