School of Education

Strong Beginnings for Babies


Children’s brains are rapidly developing during the first years of life offering a key opportunity for nurturing language development. Research has shown, however, that by the age of two, there are significant differences in the language development of children from low-income homes as compared to children from wealthier households.

Strong Beginnings for Babies is a community based, grant funded, research project designed for supporting families of infants in discovering strategies that are helpful, culturally relevant, and easy to use for fostering their children’s language development.

More specifically, this project is focused on the families of children who are slated to enter high-poverty schools at kindergarten entry as these children are at risk for having smaller vocabularies than children from more affluent households. 


Strong Beginnings for Babies employs technology from the LENA Research Foundation purchased with an equipment grant from Impact Alamance. The babies wear t-shirts with pockets on them for small digital language recorders. The baby’s sounds and words, as well as the talk of the older children and adults who interact with them, are recorded over a16 hour period. Software from the LENA Research Foundation generates reports from the recordings regarding the number of words spoken to the child and the number of interactions per hour. 

The LENA reports allow families to learn about when they are interacting with their children the most, and it gives them the opportunity to set goals for increasing the length and number of interactions. The recordings are used only for generating the LENA reports and the privacy of the families is protected as no one ever listens to the recordings.


Sessions for Strong Beginnings for Babies are offered in the evenings approximately 2 times per month from October to May at Grove Park Elementary School. Each two-hour session begins with a meal, free to the families, and then transitions to coaching sessions for the second hour. Coaches, some of whom are bilingual in English and Spanish, work closely with the families and share various principles and strategies for fostering language development. Books and toys are given to the families at each session, and student volunteers offer childcare services. Grants from Elon University’s School of Education pay for the coaches’ salaries, meals for the families, and books and toys for the babies.


Three Elon University professors are directing this project: Mary Knight-McKenna, Associate Professor, Department of Education, 336-278-5858; Heidi Hollingsworth,  Associate Professor, Department of Education, and Judy Esposito, Associate Professor, Department of Human Service Studies. Two coaches, Paola Contreras and Ana Valdez, also work in Strong Beginnings for Babies.