Designed to support families in using strategies to foster their infant’s language development, Strong Beginnings for Babies focused on families of children slated to enter high-poverty schools at kindergarten or who were receiving Medicaid.
Heidi Hollingsworth and Mary Knight-McKenna in the Department of Education and Wellness and Judy Esposito in the Department of Human Service Studies published three articles based on a community-based research project called Strong Beginnings for Babies. Caroline Redd ’19 co-authored one of the publications.
Designed to support families in using strategies to foster their infant’s language development, Strong Beginnings for Babies focused on families of children slated to enter high-poverty schools at kindergarten or who were receiving Medicaid. The majority of participants in the project self-identified as Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin. Three coaches were hired to work closely with participating families during a series of group sessions, model language promotion strategies, and review language analysis reports with families.
The research employed Language Environmental Analysis (LENA) digital language processors, that fit in the pocket of a vest worn by the child, to record the vocalizations and verbalizations of the infants and toddlers and well as those of the older children and adults who interacted with them within a six-foot radius. After each recording episode, data from the device was uploaded to a cloud-based system, and LENA software generated reports for the numerical data and provided comparisons to LENA normative data.
The first publication was a mixed methods study entitled, “Strong Beginnings for Babies: Families’ language stimulation of infants from low-income backgrounds,” which focused on the quantitative data from LENA reports. Analyses of 249 LENA recordings indicated increases in some measures of infants’ home language environments across the program period, particularly for families whose initial LENA scores were low. However, there was great variability in the recordings data. The analysis of qualitative data sources, such as parent surveys and interviews with coaches, provided insights into the emotions elicited by LENA data, recording challenges, and additional supports that encouraged family progress.
The second publication is entitled, “Infant language stimulation: A mixed-methods study of low-income families’ preference for and use of ten strategies.” Research-based language promotion strategies formed the curriculum for Strong Beginnings for Babies. Strategies were described and modeled by coaches to promote adult-child conversational turns. Coach reports and parent ratings indicated there were strategies for which families expressed strongest preference, especially those involving music or chatting with their child. Furthermore, families used these strategies most often. Coaches reported much evidence of family members talking, singing, and reading to their babies, even when a specific strategy of focus was not named.
The third publication, “Family and coach responses to a program for fostering infant language” investigated how the family participants and coaches working in Strong Beginnings for Babies responded to the project. Analyses of surveys, interviews, and coach notes indicated that the project proffered a number of benefits for both families and coaches. Benefits for families included increased knowledge about the importance of and practices for engaging in language interactions with their infants, as well as a sense of community with other families. Benefits for coaches included personal and professional opportunities for growth and positive relationships with participating families. Challenges and areas for improvement were also noted. Although families expressed a desire for more frequent and longer coaching sessions, coaches reported concerns about inconsistent program attendance and acknowledged the complexities of families’ lives.
Strong Beginnings for Babies was funded with grants from Impact Alamance and Elon University School of Education.
Knight-McKenna, M., Hollingsworth, H. L., & Esposito, J. (2020). Strong beginnings for babies: Families’ language stimulation of infants from low-income backgrounds. Journal of Children and Poverty, 26(2), 105-124. https://doi.org/10.1080/10796126.2020.1764175
Knight-McKenna, M., Hollingsworth, H. L., & Esposito, J. (2020). Infant language stimulation: A mixed-methods study of low-income families’ preference for and use of ten strategies. Early Child Development and Care. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2020.1763330
Hollingsworth, H. L., Knight-McKenna, M., & Esposito, J., & Redd, C. (2021). Family and coach responses to a program for fostering infant language. Infants and Young Children, 34(3), 204-224. https://doi.org/10.1097/IYC.0000000000000193