By Maya Fanjul-Debnam

By age four, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their more well-off peers, setting them on very different trajectories for early literacy. The disparity is jarring, and in order to combat it, Minneapolis launched a language development program called ‘Talking is Teaching.’

The campaign is meant to encourage parents to talk, sing and read to their children every day. It sounds simple, but this helps strengthen language skills at a crucial time in a child’s life. Studies show that the most critical time for brain development is from birth to age three. The first three years of life are when all of the neuron connections are occurring, something that can’t happen without stimulation from a relationship-based encounter.

The “Talking is Teaching” plan posts bus advertisements, billboards and social media to remind–and encourage–parents to talk to their children. It will also reach parents via television and radio ads, while also providing early literacy kits to families in home visits run by the city’s health department.

Officials believe that if more parents are aware of how critical talking is for a baby’s brain development that it will help narrow the harrowing word gap.

Many medical clinics in Minneapolis encourage this healthy brain development as well, by providing a book for each child that comes in for an appointment. The books are paid for by a national organization called Reach Out and Read. It’s estimated that these books reach 70 percent of Minneapolis children under age five, and their goal is to reach all of them.

The Star Tribune highlights:

“Talking is Teaching” is the first major program to come out of the mayor’s Cradle to K Cabinet, a panel of early childhood specialists that focus on Minneapolis’ kids aged up to 3. The program builds on research and materials used by the Clinton Foundation and The Opportunity Institute for their “Too Small To Fail” initiative. Other cities around the country, including Oakland, Calif., Tulsa, Okla., and Miami are already running similar campaigns.

Think Small is proud to be a part of this important initiative and program. Every child deserves a fair chance in life,  and this campaign will help level the playing field for children facing the steepest obstacles. We look forward to a future where all young children have the language skills necessary for a happy, successful life.