The Habla Conmigo Academy builds on our research on early language development by English- and Spanish-learning children from a broad range of backgrounds, results that gained front-page national press coverage (New York Times).
By 18 months, toddlers from disadvantaged English-speaking families have already fallen behind more advantaged children in critical early language skills, with a 6-month gap emerging by age 24 months (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder, 2013).
Among low-income Spanish-speaking families, we found big differences in how much parents talked to young children. The amount of language toddlers heard from caregivers at 18 months predicted their vocabulary and language understanding skills six months later. (Weisleder & Fernald, 2013)
Evaluation of the Habla Conmigo Program
In 2013-2015, 58 Spanish-speaking mothers with toddlers participated in the first 6 cohorts of Habla Conmigo (Version 1.0) workshops, when their children were 18-20 months old. A matched control group of 55 Spanish-speaking mothers with toddlers participated in another intervention program that did not focus on child development, at the same community organization.
All mothers and children were assessed in a Pre-Test before the programs started, when the children were 18 months old, and a Post-Test 5 months after the programs ended, when the children were 25 months old.
Caregiver Supportiveness was rated using the Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes (PICCOLO™) system, with 29 observable parenting behaviors in four domains: Affection, Responsiveness, Encouragement, and Teaching.
Children’s vocabulary was assessed using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (CDI), a parent-report measure of number of words produced by the child.
Caregiver’s verbal engagement with the child was assessed from transcripts of the play sessions. Amount of speech was the total number of words, and Quality of speech was the proportion of complex elaborations in caregivers’ language.
Quality of caregiving was assessed by observing mothers and children in structured play sessions.
All typically developing children learn new words between the ages of 18 and 25 months. But the kids of Habla Conmigo moms increased their vocabulary more rapidly and scored 10 percentile points higher at 25 months, compared to the control group.
We found robust positive effects of participation in Habla Conmigo on mothers’ language use and engagement with their toddlers and on their children’s language learning.
The Habla Conmigo (1.0) program significantly enhanced caregivers’ sensitivity and the amount and quality of their verbal engagement with their children.
Children of parents in the Habla Conmigo program made significantly greater gains in language learning compared to the control group.
Moms who participated in Habla Conmigo when their child was 18-20 months old were significantly more supportive in interactions with their child at 25 months, as compared to the control group.
Moms who participated in Habla Conmigo when their child was 18-20 months old increased significantly more in the amount and quality of caregiver talk with the child at 25 months, compared to the control group.