A First Look at TMW-Home Visiting Results

The longitudinal study of TMW-Home Visiting is fully enrolled and we’re excited to share some of what we’re learning.

Preliminary results show that after receiving the 12-module intervention, low-SES caregivers demonstrated increased knowledge of early childhood cognitive and language development. These caregivers provided more enriched home language environments for their toddlers including more back-and-forth conversational interactions. They also used more praise, explanations, and open-ended questions, as well as less criticism, physical control, and intrusiveness with their children.

“These findings are particularly promising,” says Director of TMW Research Christy Leung, “because these are the behaviors that have been shown to promote young children’s cognitive development and language learning.”

The active intervention stage of our longitudinal study is on track to end in June of this year, with assessments ongoing through December, 2021. We will continue to share updates as they become available.

More Than Idle Talk: The Value of Conversation

New research[1] from the McGovern Institute at MIT has reinforced the notion that quality, back-and-forth language interaction between parent and child is critical to a child’s learning and development.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers identified differences in the brain’s response to language that correlated with the number of conversational turns a child is exposed to. In children who experienced more conversation, Broca’s area, a part of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, was much more active while they listened to stories. More conversational turns boosted brain activity irrespective of parent education or family income.

“Often when people think about trying to close the word gap, all they think about is the quantity of child-directed speech, and this can result in a sort of ‘word dump’ onto the child,” says Rachel Romeo, lead researcher on this study. “But our research suggests that children’s brains care less about the sheer number of words, and more about meaningful, back-and-forth conversational turn-taking between the child and adults. It seems that during these exchanges is when learning really takes place.”

The TMW Center is excited about this research for a variety of reasons. The importance of engaging children in conversation, what we call Take Turns, is a core component of our curricula. The McGovern Institute’s work is a critical reminder that it’s not the quantity of words that matter, rather the parent-child relationship and the interaction it promotes. These findings also support one of TMW’s foundational tenets: within every parent, regardless of education or income, lies the ability to build their child’s brain and shape their future.

We plan to include this research in TMW-Pediatrics, a scalable, technology-based continuing medical education (CME) program we’ll begin piloting this summer. Many parents report having unmet needs related to the type information they desire during pediatric visits. In a survey administered by TMW to 420 parents in Chicago-area clinics and FQHCs, the majority of parents reported discussing traditional preventive topics at the first 6 months of well-child visits, including, feeding (79%) and baby’s weight (67%). Significantly fewer parents reported receiving information about brain growth (32%), how babies learn (21%), and learning to talk (17%). The goal of TMW-Pediatrics is to build on the unique positioning pediatricians have to intervene early and have a lasting impact on a child’s future health and well-being by educating parents about the importance of a rich early language environment. By doing so, physicians can help prevent disparities before they start.

 

(1) R. R. Romeo, J. A. Leonard, S. T. Robinson, M.R. West, A. P. Mackey, M. L. Rowe, and J.D.E. Gabrieli. Forthcoming. “Beyond the “30 million word gap:” Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function.” Psychological Science.

Exciting Research from MIT’s McGovern Institute

New research[1] from the McGovern Institute at MIT has reinforced the notion that quality, back-and-forth language interaction between parent and child is critical to a child’s learning and development.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers identified differences in the brain’s response to language that correlated with the number of conversational turns a child is exposed to.  In children who experienced more conversation, Broca’s area, a part of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, was much more active while they listened to stories. More conversational turns boosted brain activity irrespective of parent education or family income.

“Often when people think about trying to close the word gap, all they think about is the quantity of child-directed speech, and this can result in a sort of “word dump” onto the child,” says Rachel Romeo, lead researcher on this study.  “But our research suggests that children’s brains care less about the sheer number of words, and more about meaningful, back-and-forth conversational turn-taking between the child and adults. It seems that during these exchanges is when learning really takes place.”

The TMW Center is excited about this research for a variety of reasons. The importance of engaging a child in conversation, what we call Take Turns, is a core component of our curricula.  These findings also support a foundational tenet of our work: the belief that within every parent, regardless of education or income, lies the ability to build their child’s brain and shape their future.

We plan to include this research in TMW-Pediatrician, a scalable, technology-based continuing medical education (CME) program we’ll begin piloting this summer. Our goal is to improve doctor-parent communication related to early learning and early brain development by highlighting strategies and tools for sharing information and demonstrating behaviors. Pediatricians, along with other healthcare professionals, are uniquely positioned to intervene early and have a lasting impact on a child’s future health and well-being. Through educating parents about the importance of a rich early language environment, they can help prevent disparities before they start.

(1) R. R. Romeo, J. A. Leonard, S. T. Robinson, M.R. West, A. P. Mackey, M. L. Rowe, and J.D.E. Gabrieli. Forthcoming. “Beyond the “30 million word gap:” Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function.” Psychological Science.