Stable and nurturing relationships that promote a consistent serve and return between caregivers and young children are foundational to human development, but recent data show that the COVID-19 pandemic decreased vocalizations and increased levels of language isolation for babies and toddlers this past year.
LENA provides technology-based programs to accelerate the language development of children birth to three. Its programs improve child outcomes by encouraging essential, early adult-child interactions and relationships. LENA’s evidence-based “talk pedometer” technology measures the quantity and quality of adult-child interactions in any environment and is the backbone of adaptable programs for the adults who care for infants and toddlers.
Amidst significant pandemic disruptions to the childcare and early education sector, LENA received feedback that its in-service professional development program was a valued but time-intensive offering for educators who were already stretched thin. In response to this feedback, LENA adapted its 10-week program into two stackable five-week sessions, increasing its support for implementing partners and making it easier to both run and participate in the program. LENA’s real-time monitoring of results showed that these modifications didn’t sacrifice outcomes: teachers who participated in just one five-week session made 85 percent of the gains seen in the full program.
Research clearly links LENA’s target outcome, conversational turns, to language development, reading, IQ, socioemotional development, and executive function, and studies consistently demonstrate the trajectory-changing impact of LENA programs, even during tumultuous times. Preliminary analysis conducted by LENA’s research team showed that children participating in LENA Grow during the COVID-19 pandemic gained nearly 1.5 months’ worth of language skills in just one month’s time (1.8 months for children starting with below-average language skills), achieving developmental milestones at an accelerated rate compared to a sample of children who did not participate in the program.
By creating a more flexible model, LENA served more than 19,000 children in 2022, a 56 percent increase over the previous year. LENA also expects the cost-per-child of its model to decrease when partners are able to serve more children and find economies of scale.
Overdeck Family Foundation has played a significant role in helping LENA scale its impact, including supporting the organization to more than triple its reach since we began funding in 2018. In addition to grant funding, we have invested in building out LENA’s innovation and research capacities and expanded the data analysis function through a Harvard Strategic Data Project Fellow who joined the team after his two-year fellowship ended in 2022. Additionally, Carly Roberts, Associate Program Director of Out-of-School Learning, has served on LENA’s Board of Directors since 2020, advising the organization on growth strategy, organizational evolution, and fundraising.