What We’re Reading

  • A new national poll from the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has opened Americans’ eyes to the importance of child care for families. The survey found that regardless of political party, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that high-quality, affordable child care for families with young children is an essential service—just like healthcare and education.
  • As experts warn that we may be heading into the most challenging phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re revisiting this LEGO Foundation blog post by Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen on the power of play to help children cope with change. It offers six evidence-based approaches to using creativity and active engagement in play and argues that making room for play right now is not just okay, it’s more important than ever. Of course, we recognize that this is an incredibly challenging, stressful, and exhausting time for many parents and caregivers. We encourage all caregivers to do whatever they can to care for themselves so that they might be able to approach play—and other forms of child engagement—with intention and clarity.

Scaling Book is Off to the Presses

As part of the TMW Center’s commitment to advancing the science of scaling—that is, understanding how experimental insights can effectively be scaled—in the early childhood field, we have curated an edited volume dedicated to the topic. Featuring contributions from an esteemed and diverse group of authors, including economists, psychiatrists, physicians, field researchers, and early childhood practitioners, this book will provide actionable blueprints for more effectively approaching scaling. Last week, we submitted a final draft of the manuscript—all 21 chapters—to the book’s publisher, Routledge. This project has been a labor of love for many of us and we can’t wait to see The Scale-Up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why Interventions Lose Impact at Scale and What We Can Do About It hit shelves in June 2021! For a list of authors and chapter topics, you can view the book’s table of contents here.

3Ts-Let’s Talk Dads Continues in Phoenix

We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Southwest Human Development and the Steve Nash Foundation and to offer 3Ts-Let’s Talk Dads to even more fathers in the Phoenix region. Let’s Talk Dads is a four-session, facilitator-led program implemented with fathers only. Designed to work in a variety of group settings, the current sessions are being offered virtually in accordance with public health guidance.

Like all TMW Center interventions, Let’s Talk Dads translates emerging brain science into strategies parents and caregivers can use in everyday settings. The four sessions utilize group discussion, parent-child videos, and behavioral nudges are used to support adult behavior change. Southwest Human Development is currently recruiting dads to participate in the third wave of the program, which will be offered to two groups of 10-12 participants each. Given that there was a waitlist to participate in the last cohort, we anticipate interest to be high and we look forward to welcoming a new group of fathers to the program!

Sentenced at Birth: The Invisible Toll of Mass Incarceration on Childhood Development

As the United States’ carceral state has come under increased scrutiny amid skyrocketing incarceration rates, the children of incarcerated parents have remained in the shadows. They are collateral damage of a broken and racist system. In a new column published by the Hechinger Report, TMW Center co-director Dana Suskind explores the insidious ways in which parental incarceration affects those children—including its potential disruption of healthy early brain development.

You can read the column here and we encourage you to please share it using the following sample social media posts—or crafting your own!

What We’re Reading

The Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap, from the Prenatal-3 Policy Impact Center at the University of Texas Austin, which describes the Roadmap this way:

The inaugural 2020 Roadmap provides baseline information on the current status of each state’s prenatal-to-3 system of care and will be updated annually to monitor:

  • states’ progress toward adopting and fully implementing the effective policies and strategies;
  • changes in the generosity of state benefits;
  • progress toward serving all children and families who are eligible for state benefits;
  • changes in the overall wellbeing of children and families in each state; and
  • efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes.

Early Childhood Educators’ Commitment on Display

The toll of the coronavirus crisis on child care providers is certain to be profound and long-lasting, with dramatic consequences on families and employers across the nation. Parents, providers, advocacy groups, and others are sounding the alarm about the unsustainable nature of the current system—one that was in crisis before the pandemic even began.

We support those efforts and echo those concerns, and, in recent months, have been reminded of the incredible commitment of early childhood educators.

Over the past six months, despite Herculean efforts to serve the needs of their communities, both home-based and center-based child care providers have struggled to keep their doors open. And during that same time, as individual educators faced various combinations of uncertainty, unemployment, the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and other concerns, more than 675 of them registered to participate in our virtual 3Ts Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Course.

We applaud every educator who took the time during this crisis to sharpen their own skills and enhance their ability to promote foundational brain development through nurturing talk and interaction. As so many families know (now, more than ever), raising a child is not a solo endeavor. The more caretakers and adults who learn the science of early brain development, the better off all children will be.

We welcome any early childhood educator to enroll in our online course at https://redcap.uchicago.edu/surveys/?s=PXDDPLF3XA.

St. Louis Families Embrace their Power to Build Kids’ Brains with the 3Ts

We are thrilled to announce that we have launched a pilot of the 3T’s Let’s Talk program in St. Louis. Nearly 30 families are participating in the 10-week program designed to empower parents and caregivers with knowledge and skills to develop their children’s intellectual and educational potential.

The pilot, which is generously supported by the PNC Foundation and its PNC Grow Up Great initiative, is being conducted with groups of families from three early learning programs in the city’s Normandy school district and is the result of tremendous collaboration and enthusiasm within the St. Louis community.

Local non-profit United 4 Children (U4C) is overseeing the program’s implementation and has enlisted the support of other community leaders as well. S.T.A.R. Nonprofit Organization for Early Educators, a coaching and training institute that was founded by two community members and child-care center operators, is providing facilitation for the group sessions. St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature partnered with U4C to ensure that the 10 books provided to each participating family are culturally relevant and inclusive.

3Ts Let’s Talk is one of the TMW Center’s signature programs that teaches parents and caregivers about the critical role their talk and interaction play in their children’s foundational brain development, as well as research-based strategies to enhance that development. It is designed for group settings and aims to harness the social capital that results from individuals learning alongside one–even virtually.

The heart of the program is the “3Ts,” TMW Center’s approach to creating a rich early language environment: Tune In by being in the moment with your child; Talk More by using a variety of words; and Take Turns by engaging your child in conversation. Each Let’s Talk group session will include guided practice and goal setting to help families integrate the 3Ts into their everyday lives.

The St. Louis pilot is one of several planned for the upcoming year. Through this pilot process, we aim to strengthen the knowledge and behavior change impact of the Let’s Talk program, and more importantly, reach more families with this critical information and support.

Griffin Applied Economics Incubator

Though the inaugural year of the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator has technically come to an end, the TMW Center looks forward to continuing many of the activities launched under the Incubator umbrella during the coming academic year. Despite disruptions caused by the coronavirus public health crisis, the Incubator achieved a great deal over the course of the inaugural (2019-20) year, which was dedicated to expanding early childhood research with an emphasis on the science of scaling evidence-based interventions.

Under TMW Center’s leadership, the Incubator succeeded in generating momentum around the notion that understanding how to scale promising interventions is the next frontier in the evidence-based policymaking process—a critical missing link that stands to enhance the efficacy of research, practice, and policy in early childhood education and development, to the benefit of all. Toward that end, the Incubator…

  • Awarded eight grants to support innovative, relevant research projects.
  • Hosted eight world-renowned researchers as Incubator Visitors, providing them an opportunity to deeply explore the challenges and opportunities of scaling, thus ensuring that some of the world’s brightest minds in economics, psychology, and child development will be committed to advancing the science of scaling in their own work, at their home institutions, and in their fields.
  • Hosted a dozen formal convenings and facilitated dozens more informal networking and mentoring sessions where scholars presented research, exchanged and debated ideas, and discussed how to incorporate the science of scaling in their work in ways that will generate solutions better-suited for scaling-up, and thus, benefitting more children and families.
  • Published columns, op-eds, and interviews in high-profile media outlets in order to reach thought leaders outside of academia and advance the idea that all stakeholders have a role to play in designing, championing, and implementing scalable early childhood programs.
  • Finalized an ambitious and exciting agenda for a thought-provoking conference, “Advancing the Science of Scaling,” that will bring together researchers, policy makers, advocates, and practitioners in June 2021.

In addition to all that we accomplished over the past year, we look forward to the following events and activities that will take place during the 2020-21 academic year:

  • Publication and distribution of an edited volume, The Scale-up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why interventions lose impact at scale and what we can do about it (June 2021). Featuring contributions from an esteemed and diverse group of authors, including economists, psychiatrists, physicians, field researchers, and early childhood practitioners, this volume provides actionable blueprints for more effectively approaching scaling.
  • Publication of a special issue of the Journal of Political Economy dedicated to the economics of child development, which will signal the particular importance of this topic, expand the existing literature, and motivate other economists to tackle similar issues in their work.
  • The rescheduled “Advancing the Science of Scaling” conference (June 16-17, 2021)
  • Rescheduled visits from seven world-class researchers whose originally scheduled trips were cancelled due to COVID-19 (if and when they can be held safely)

In these ways and many others, the TMW Center will build upon the Incubator’s successful, foundational efforts to generate broader understanding of the science of scaling and its importance to early childhood.

Summer 2020

These past five months have brought with them unprecedented challenges. Now in our 19th full week of remote work, we’ve had to reimagined ways to advance our work by adapting our efforts and outreach. We wanted to take this time to share with you a few examples of how we’ve been able to do this.

Thanks to innovative technology, strong partnerships, and our committed team, our research studies have continued and even expanded during this time. First, we were able to open TMW-Early Childhood Educator (ECE), our free online professional development, to hundreds of educators outside of our original randomized control trial. Since April, more than 460 educators have enrolled and nearly 200 have completed the course. Additionally, we’ve worked with our partners in Palm Beach County, Florida, to begin offering TMW-Newborn remotely to enable families to participate even without in-person interactions in hospitals and clinics. We’ve also adapted our flagship English Home Visiting program to a fully-remote model, where both video sessions and assessments are conducted virtually.

Prior to the pandemic, the TMW Center had begun to pilot Let’s Talk and Let’s Talk Dads group programs in communities across the country. When in-person gathering were no longer an option, we quickly adapted our curricula and research methods to offer online versions. Collaboration with our partners has been integral to these changes as we work to understand how to make the adaptations fit parents’ access to technology, organizations’ changing budgets, local stay-at-home orders and more. We’re excited to share that, through our partnership with Southwest Human Development in Phoenix, Arizona, we’ve launched our first fully-remote Let’s Talk Dads pilot with 20 dads participating in the Zoom-based sessions. 

Beyond our research studies, we’ve also made great strides in other areas of our work. We’ve worked closely with our partners at PNC Grow Up Great to update the Any Time is 3Ts Time campaign for the current context, focusing on how we can support organizations in their digital engagement with families. To date, we’ve had more than 120 organizations sign up to access 3Ts resources. We’ve also completed the first build of our tech platform, which will help us to support remote and in-person delivery of our interventions and coordinate data collection at a broader scale. This has been a multi-year effort, and we’re excited to see how our work is transformed as a result.

We’re immensely grateful to everyone who has made this work possible. While it’s still uncertain how long COVID-19 will be a part of our lives, these past four months have  reinforced the need for us to increase our support to families.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The work of the TMW Center is about much more than language development—it’s about supporting families, it is about equity, and it is about justice. As has long been clear to many in this country, particularly men, women, and children of color, justice isn’t bestowed equally, if at all, to all Americans. In recent months, many more citizens seem to have awakened to this intolerable reality. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other people of color at the hands of white police officers and vigilantes are only the most recent painful examples of centuries’ worth of racial injustice in the United States. But they have awakened a nation to the need to undo the harms wrought by structural racism, police brutality, redlining, and other forms of white oppression—and the tremendous work that will be required to do so.

At the TMW Center, we’re committed to this work. It’s our obligation as public servants and as individuals. We recognize that this work will not come easily and will not be completed quickly. But we know, too, that there can be no delay in its undertaking, and that continuing with business as usual is simply not an option. We’ve taken several, initial steps in pursuit of fostering an anti-racist culture across our country, in our communities, and at the TMW Center.

As a staff, we have been engaging in difficult conversations about race, privilege, and bias, dedicating time and space specifically to these topics, but also seeking to more intentionally weave them into all of our work. We’ve compiled and shared with one another resources to aid us in this work. This includes resources specifically for parents and educators; tips for getting involved in the anti-racism movement in Chicago and nationally; and recommendations of books, articles, movies, and podcasts to help us learn, grow, and feel inspired.  The next stage of our work is to engage with outside experts to reimagine how we do our work to ensure we live up to our aspiration to be an actively anti-racist organization.  As we pursue this work, TMW Center leadership has been unwavering in its support of staff, partners, and families who are hurting and unequivocal its affirmation of the notion that Black Lives Matter.

We created the precursor to the TMW Center because we were outraged by American educational inequities and because we knew that all parents want what’s best for their children.  More than ten years later, the TMW Center remains unwavering in its commitment to pursue interventions that close gaps of inequity and opportunity and improve children’s lives. We’re equally committed to fighting the systemic and structural racism that is responsible for so many of those chasms.