What We’re Reading

Can public policies that increase financial resources for families with low income reduce socioeconomic disparities in brain development and mental health? A fascinating new pre-print study by David G. Weissman and colleagues addresses this question. Doing so has not been previously possible, because neuroimaging studies are typically conducted in a single community. However, as the authors explain, they leveraged…

“A unique opportunity provided by the Adolescent Behavior and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which provided harmonized neuroimaging data from 11,534 youth across 21 sites (in 17 states) that differed in cost of living and anti-poverty policy climates. Lower SES was associated with smaller hippocampal volume, higher internalizing psychopathology, and greater exposure to stressful life events, but the magnitude of these associations varied significantly across states. The association of SES with hippocampal volume was about 37% smaller in states where cost of living was high but that provided more generous cash benefits for lower SES families as compared to states with less generous benefits. In high cost of living states where antipoverty programs were more generous, the association between SES and hippocampal volume resembled that of low cost of living states. Similar patterns were observed for internalizing psychopathology and stressful life events. These findings demonstrate that macroeconomic conditions moderate the degree to which family income influences children’s neurodevelopment and mental health and that anti-poverty policies exert a buffering effect against the negative impacts of low SES.”

Parent Nation Updates

Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise, the forthcoming book by TMW Center Co-Director Dana Suskind, is receiving glowing early reviews. Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, MacArthur Fellow, and author of NYT Bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, called the book “A manifesto, and a handbook, for what we as individuals and as a society are morally called to do for all kids to thrive. Required reading for anyone who has ever loved a child.”

You can read more reviews or pre-order the book (which will be released April 26, 2022) here.

Thanks to a very generous gift from Hearing First, an educational endeavor of the Oberkotter Foundation, we are able to provide free copies of “Parent Nation” to individuals and organizations that face financial constraints. If you would like to suggest a recipient, please contact Jon Wenger at jwenger@bsd.uchicago.edu.

And if you’d like to be the first to hear about events and announcements related to the book and the accompanying public impact campaign, be sure to sign up for the Building a Parent Nation newsletter!

TMW Center: By the Numbers

At the TMW Center, our work is fueled by the belief that science is the basis for real social change, and it leads to thousands more parents and caregivers in this country having access to information and tools that help them optimize the foundational brain development of their children. See below for a quantitative look at our work and our impact over the years.

 

  • 3Ts at the heart of all TMW Center programs and interventions. These easy-to-apply, evidence-based strategies remind parents to “Tune In and respond to what your child is communicating; Talk More and build your child’s vocabulary with descriptive language; and Take Turns to engage your child in conversation and foster curiosity and knowledge”
  • 3 languages (English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole) in which TMW Center materials are available
  • 5 books written or edited by our Center Co-Directors Dr. Dana Suskind & John List
  • 8 evidence-based interventions developed for parents & caregivers, each designed to be embedded within existing systems and tailored to a specific setting and phase of life
  • 8 communities with sites that implement TMW Center programs (Akron, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Lexington, Palm Beach, Phoenix, St. Louis)
  • 11 years since Dr. Dana Suskind launched the precursor to our Center, the Thirty Million Words Initiative, in 2010
  • 12 randomized control, quasi-experimental and implementation trials of TMW Center interventions completed, with results indicating that these interventions lead to an increase in parent and caregiver knowledge of brain development and richer early language environments for children
  • 20+ funders have generously supported our work
  • 21 studies published in peer-reviewed journals
  • 28 full-time staff members
  • 42% – the average increase in conversational turn-taking by parents in our home-visiting program
  • 50 student workers, on average, per year
  • 72% – the average increase in complexity and diversity of language used by parents in our home-visiting program
  • 290 organizations registered on the 3Ts Partner Portal to access Any Time is 3Ts Time campaign resources
  • 325+ parents have participated in our facilitator-led group programs, Let’s Talk and Let’s Talk Dads
  • 356 early childhood education providers have completed our 3Ts-Early Childhood Educator professional development course
  • 600 items developed for inclusion in the computer-adaptive version of our SPEAK measurement tool
  • 700+ parents in Palm Beach County Florida completed TMW Center interventions in hospital and clinic settings as part of our first community-wide demonstration project
  • 971 parent-child interactions recorded and transcribed for analysis in our studies (representing approximately 10,681 hours of transcribers’ time)
  • 3,500+ parents & caregivers have used our digital education tool org
  • 11,500+ followers on social media
  • 15,000 parents & caregivers expected to be reached directly by TMW Center programming and resources by 2024
  • 61,445+ annual page views on the TMW Center website
  • Countless parents, educators, and caregivers inspire us daily

What We’re Reading

The Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap 2021, developed by the Prenatal to 3 Policy Impact Center at the University of Texas at Austin, identifies evidence-based investments that states can make to foster equitable opportunities for infants and toddlers. The Roadmap highlights five state-level policies and six strategies that states can adopt to help infants and toddlers get off to a healthy start and thrive.

We’ve been exploring the Roadmap for our own home state of 
Illinois, as well as others across the nation. We’re grateful for this impressive and robust tool that can help inform policy that is based on the science of early childhood development.

TMW Center Leadership in the Media

TMW Center Co-Directors Dana Suskind and John List have been featured in a variety of media outlets recently, discussing the Center’s latest work and sharing their perspectives on pressing issues facing children and parents.
  • In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, Dana shares findings from the latest TMW Center research on parental beliefs, and reflects on the study’s important implications for researchers and society at large.
  • Writing with Ori Heffetz in Project Syndicate, John argues that more social science experiments are urgently needed to ensure that we implement policies with a proven record of success.
  • As an invited contributor to the Milken Institute’s Power of Ideas essay series, Dana illustrates that “By Supporting Parents, We Boost Child Development.
  • Dana was also featured in a recent episode of Freakonomics Radio investigating the causes of—and potential solutions to—the tragically high rates of child poverty in the U.S.

Congrats 3Ts – Let’s Talk Dads Grads!

This month, two more cohorts of fathers completed 3Ts – Let’s Talk Dads, our group program for fathers of young children. Thanks to our wonderful partners at Southwest Human Development, who implement the program with fathers in their Phoenix community, and the generous support provided by the Steve Nash Foundation, 139 fathers (and counting) have completed the program! We’re proud to play a part in helping these dads form nurturing, secure attachments and foster healthy brain development in their little ones.

At the start of a recent session, one participant had this to say: 
“I’m super excited that they actually have something for dads you know? I was a part of another program and it feels like it was mainly directed towards women. I’m just excited to experience something just for dads.” We’re excited, too!

New TMW Center Research Published in Nature Communications

A rich body of research demonstrates that healthy brain development in children relies on nurturing interactions with adults—and that the neural connections formed in the first three years of life lay the foundation for life-long learning. But little research has been done to quantify parents’ awareness or understanding of that science.

TMW Center’s John List, Julie Pernaudet, and Dana Suskind recently conducted a series of field experiments designed to help fill the gap. They found that parental beliefs about child development are predictive of a parent’s level of facilitative engagement with their child; that those beliefs are malleable; and that—with the appropriate level of intervention—changes in those beliefs can result in lasting increases in parental investments and improvements in child outcomes.

These results were published on October 1, 2021, in Nature Communications. The full article is available online and a press release summarizing the findings can be read here.

Reflections from Dr. Dana Suskind

As we all know, parents and caregivers play an incredibly powerful role in impacting early brain development. For that (very good!) reason, many of us concerned with children’s well-being have worked to create behavioral interventions and resources that help parents interact in a way that optimizes development.

And yet, little research has been done to understand, number one, what parents know or believe in the first place, and, number two, whether or not changing those beliefs maps onto changes in child input and child outcomes.

So, colleagues and I conducted a series of field experiments to examine those questions.

I am encouraged and excited by our findings, published recently in Nature Communications. Specifically, we find that parental beliefs about child development are malleable and—with the appropriate level of intervention—changes in those beliefs can result in lasting increases in parental investments and improvements in child outcomes.

The experiments themselves are detailed in the paper, but I’d like to take a moment here to reflect on their implications, and what I consider to be this study’s most important revelation: confirmation that our society has failed to provide the support parents and families need during children’s incredibly formative early years.

So often, we view scientific advancements through a “bench to bedside” lens, seeking to put new scientific knowledge into action on the individual level. I understand this instinct, and celebrate attempts to make scientific findings available to all. But, I believe firmly that we must also consider how research can be applied to influence systems rather than individuals.

Our research illustrates the powerful effect of shifting parents’ knowledge and beliefs about brain development. I hope it can also play a small role in shifting society’s belief about the urgent, critical need to do more to support parents. Our paper offers promising examples of at least one way to start.

Dana Suskind’s “Parent Nation” to be Published April, 2022

The TMW Center is excited to announce the latest book from our founder and co-director Dana Suskind. Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise will be published April 26, 2022, by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House. In celebration of the book and its inspiring, actionable recommendations, the TMW Center will launch a campaign called “Building a Parent Nation” next spring.

In Parent Nation, Dana offers a compelling look at the neuroscience of early childhood development—and how it can guide us toward a more prosperous and equitable future. Her prescription: More robust support for parents during the most critical years of their children’s development.

Despite the inherent power all parents possess to lay strong foundations for lifelong learning and healthy development in their children, the systems we have today have made it nearly impossible for far too many of us to do so. Weaving together the latest science on the developing brain with relatable and often heart-breaking stories of extraordinary families from all walks of life, Dana shows that the status quo—scores of parents left to shoulder the enormous responsibility of early childhood care, development, and education on their own without formal support or guidance—is not only unsustainable, but deeply detrimental to the wellbeing of children, families, and society.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated our inequities and revealed our nation’s fault lines, particularly around how we care for, nurture and educate our children. The time for reimagining our current structures is now, and this book offers a blueprint. Parent Nation calls on each of us to unite in spite of—indeed, in celebration of—our differences and build a brighter future for all children.

Informed by the science of foundational brain development as well as history, political science, and the lived experiences of families around the country, this book clearly outlines how society can and should help families meet the developmental needs of their children—and ensure that all children are afforded the promise of their promise.

The TMW Center looks forward to sharing this book with the nation through our Building a Parent Nation campaign. Together, this campaign and important volume will help shift political will in favor of championing families and giving all children an opportunity to thrive. And they will illuminate the actions needed to turn that support into reality.

To receive updates about the book, the campaign, and related events, please sign up for our Building a Parent Nation newsletter here.

What We’re Reading

Persevering through the Pandemic: Key Learnings about Children from Parents and Early Educators – Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Leveraging data collected in late 2020 and early 2021 as part of the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H), this report captures the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, families, and early educators. Unsurprisingly, it finds that the pandemic has negatively affected young children’s academic, social-emotional, and behavioral development, and calls for a careful approach to reopening schools this fall. As children return to school, the authors note, they will not only need help in rebuilding their core academic skills, but also with those essential social and emotional skills that underlie all learning and interpersonal interaction. “Taking time up front to ask children about their well-being and providing them with tools to process what they have experienced will make a substantial difference … in the long run,” the authors suggest.

TMW Center on Instagram!

Looking for more of our evidence-based tips and strategies? Our new Instagram account shares easy-to-use tactics (and the science behind them!) that parents and caregivers can use to enhance the early language environment for their children. Follow along at @TMW3Ts!