Small Talks features leaders who will share key insights on early childhood education and discuss innovative solutions to early learning issues in Minnesota.

By Kristie Thorson

Talk to Me: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life was the topic of the first Think Small Small Talks event which took place August 15, 2017, at the University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in Minneapolis.  The panel presentation and discussion focused on closing the word gap in Minnesota through simple practices, strategic partnerships, and innovative research.

Scott McConnell, Educational Psychology professor at the University of Minnesota was one of the presenters.  His research focuses primarily on preschool-aged children, and the skills and competencies that will enable them to learn and participate in school and other settings.  His work includes implementation and evaluation of LENA Start, a program which focuses on increasing interactive talk with children because it has been proven to be a key factor in early brain development.

“Families talk more, kids talk more.  Families talk less, kids talk less,” McConnell said.

Click below to watch some video highlights from the first Small Talks event.

Dianne Haulcy, Senior Vice President for Family Engagement at Think Small was the second of three panelists.  She has directed five early childhood programs serving inner-city, low-income, ethnically diverse populations, and was previously the Chief Operating Officer of The Family Partnership.  Haulcy currently serves on the Governor’s Early Learning Council, the Parent Aware Advisory Committee, and is the co-chair of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) Early Childhood Action Team.

“Both parents and providers have loved to get that real-time information about how they are doing,” said Haulcy.  “Think Small was actually the first in the country to use the word pedometer and the LENA Start program to work with parents and family child care providers together.”

The LENA Start program features a digital recording device that slips into a special vest which a child will then wear for the day.  The device measures the number of words spoken as well as conversational turns between the child and a parent or child care provider.

The final panelist was Gerri Fisher, Parent Engagement Coordinator.  She spent 8 years in early childhood and family education with the public schools before joining Think Small.

“The device also measures TV and electronic time which I don’t like to spend a lot of time on,” Fisher said.  “But it can be interesting to see how that kind of sound decreases language in the home.”

Deanne and Joe Vaughan

Minneapolis parents Deanne and Joe Vaughan have two young daughters.  They appreciate the feedback they received while enrolled in a Lena Start cohort through Think Small.

“Getting our children more involved was one of things that made it seem more doable because it was things we were already doing,” said Deanne Vaughan.  “It’s a snapshot of how we’re interacting with our kids and using everyday moments to increase our conversations with them.”

More than 50 people attended the first Small Talks and organizers hope to see the audience grow with each event.