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. 

Family Resources

We’ve all been inundated with resources lately. Here are some of our favorites for families with young children:

The AAP’s parent-facing website is full up-to-date information and resources.

Compilation of articles that include advice on talking to children about the virus, how to care for yourselves and your families during this time, and some activity ideas.

A single destination for parents, caregivers, educators, and program leaders to find helpful resources for parents and young children during this time.

Compilation of resources that address a variety of needs families may be facing including access to food resources, low-cost technology, and internet services.

ParentsTogether offers the latest parenting advice and resources as well as an online community, Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic group, for folks wanting to connect with other families who are trying to make it through this time.

Bright by Text sends free games, tips, and resources right to your cell phone tailored to your child’s age.

Storyline hosts free virtual readings of children’s books. Each video animates the pictures in the books and includes an activity guide.

Sesame Street’s Caring for Each Other initiative offers resources for parents, free e-books, videos, activity ideas, and more for families.

Indoor activity tool-kit that focuses on activities that don’t require any special materials.

Join author and artist Mo Willems in his virtual studio for doodling, drawing and writing fun.

Audible makes hundreds of children’s books available to stream for free.

Spring 2020 at the TMW Center

These are truly unprecedented times. We at the TMW Center have made a number of changes in recent weeks to adapt our efforts and outreach so that our work may continue. Beginning in mid-March, for their safety and that of their families, our staff transitioned to working remotely. Similarly, our student workforce was sent home by the university for the remainder of the school year. Since then, our focus has been threefold: accelerating workflows unaffected by the current crisis, reprioritizing others to ensure we’re optimizing our efforts, and looking for new ways to get our resources out to communities and into the hands of more families. Along the way, we’ve been doing our best to make sure our staff, both full-time and students, has the support they need professionally and personally to navigate these uncharted waters.

Our first virtual staff meeting!

COVID-19 Update

Dear Friends,

To say these are trying times is an understatement. As we’re all doing our best to adjust to the new normal, I hope this finds you well.

As a physician, I’ve witnessed first-hand the extraordinary dedication of the health care professionals and support staff with whom I work. I’ve also watched so many in my community, the city of Chicago, and our nation come together for the greater good by social distancing, donating resources, checking on elderly neighbors, and so much more. This moment in time is, perhaps, a metaphor for how we need to think – and more importantly, act – to change our societal structures to better support all caregivers.

In the midst of a pandemic, the spotlight is on health care workers. And rightly so. The shortage of PPE, personal protective equipment, is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of COVID-19. The fact that we lack resources as basic as masks and gowns to protect our health care workers – the very people we’re relying on to take care of our sick – is unimaginable. But just as we are only as healthy as those who care for us, our nation’s children can only thrive when their parents have adequate access to resources and support. In both cases, we owe it to our caregivers to provide the resources and support they need to succeed in these most critical roles. We at the TMW Center are committed to continuing the important work of supporting families during this unprecedented time and are actively adapting our efforts and outreach to keep up with the ever-changing reality.

Even amid such uncertainty, I am buoyed by examples of kindness and good in the world. In my own life, a neighbor dropped off 2 boxes of N95 masks she found in her garage. A friend who owns a fabric store made thousands of masks. Families in my Hyde Park community are placing teddy bears in their front windows so parents of stir-crazy young children can turn going on a walk into going on a bear hunt. This list goes on and on, and it fills my heart.

There are glimmers of hope to be found by looking at history, as well. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, particularly about our nation’s response to WWII. Interestingly, some very inspiring work related to families and children grew out of this time. As it became necessary for women to join the workforce to support the war effort, the need for childcare became a priority. In 1942, with funding from the 1941 Defense Public Works law, the Lanham Act established the first federally-subsidized childcare system where all children, regardless of family income, qualified. By the end of the war, more than 550,000 children had attended Lanham-funded centers.

The program didn’t survive for a variety of reasons, but over the years, historians have pointed to lasting positive impacts. It was unique in its mission to address the needs of both children and mothers from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, there was a substantial increase in maternal employment for the women who participated, and documented positive outcomes in the children.

None of us know what it’s going to look like on the other side. My hope is that we come together to reflect not only on what we can do to be better prepared in times of crisis, but to view lessons learned through a broader lens to do better for our families each day. Just as we must protect the health of our nation’s health care providers, so must we nurture and support our nation’s parents. Our caregivers, all caregivers, deserve this.

Warmest regards,


Co-Director, TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health

Any Time is 3Ts Time Campaign

We at the TMW Center are honored to continue our partnership with the PNC Foundation and their PNC Grow Up Great initiative with Any Time is 3Ts Time, a multimedia campaign that fosters knowledge and builds actionable skills that enable parents to promote their children’s foundational brain development. At the core is the 3Ts – Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns – a simple, yet powerful tool that helps parents make the most of everyday interactions with their young children.

Any Time is 3Ts Time will allow us to have an impact on thousands of families across PNC markets through a community-driven suite of online, print, and in-person resources for families. This content, available in both English and Spanish, will mark the next phase of TMW’s evidence-based interventions, shown to have meaningful outcomes for children ages 0-3. As with everything we do, science will be at the heart of this work, guiding a data-driven approach to optimize our efforts and deepen parents’ learning.

Perhaps most exciting for us is that the first community to adopt Any Time is 3Ts Time will be our hometown of Chicago. In collaboration with Metropolitan Family Services, an organization that supports local families, we’ll roll out campaign resources including Let’s Talk!, a group program that aims to provide parents a greater understanding and mastery of 3Ts strategies. Beginning in January, we’ll pilot Let’s Talk! at 3 Metropolitan Family sites, with the cities of St. Louis and Lexington following in early spring.

Learn more about the Any Time is 3Ts Time campaign and get a sneak peek at some of the resources here.

The Incubator Begins

The inaugural year of the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator is officially underway, with the TMW Center playing a critical leadership role. The year-long initiative, which is focused on expanding early childhood research with an emphasis on the science of scaling evidence-based interventions, is hosting a variety of events and producing a series of publications throughout the year.

One of the Incubator’s most exciting and ambitious projects is the development of an edited volume called “The Scale-up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why interventions lose impact at scale and what we can do about it.” The volume brings together the latest and best research to address the fact that the great promise of evidence-based early childhood interventions has yet to be realized; that we have yet to achieve population-level change for children living in poverty.

Later this month, the TMW Center and the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator will host a two-day closed workshop for authors who are contributing to the project. Authors will present their chapters, receive feedback from one another, and work together to develop recommendations for the field. With a group of authors and attendees that includes accomplished economists, psychologists, physicians, field researchers, and early childhood practitioners, the workshop is certain to be lively, enlightening, and an important part of the book’s development. The result will be a volume that advances the efforts of those who are working to improve outcomes for millions of children across the world.