Talk With Me Baby program gains White House recognition

Emory NursingOctober 16, 2014
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Talk With Me Baby systematically strengthens and reinforces the capacity of all parents and caregivers in Georgia to deliver vital language nutrition to their children, starting at birth.


Emory University's School of Medicine and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing are two key partners sharing Georgia's Talk With Me Baby (TWMB) initiative at a day-long workshop at the White House to help bridge the nation's 30 million word gap between children from high income families and children from low income families. The workshop took place on October 16.

By integrating language nutrition coaching as a core competency across the largest healthcare workforce — nurses — as well as to WIC nutritionists and early education professionals, TWMB systematically strengthens and reinforces the capacity of all parents and caregivers in Georgia to deliver vital language nutrition to their children, starting at birth.

Emory leaders will be among partners including the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Speech School, Get Georgia Reading-Georgia's Campaign for Grade Level Reading with collaboration from Georgia Institute of Technology. This collaborative effort aims to reach all Georgia babies by 2017.

Narrative conversation with babies at the earliest ages stimulates brain development and builds language, literacy, and social emotional skills. Children who do not read on grade level by the third grade are four to six times more likely to eventually drop out of school. The goal of the Talk with Me Baby program is to ensure that children in Georgia read on grade level by the end of third grade by increasing their vocabulary and conversation beginning in the womb.

"The concept is very simple but also very critical," says Ashley Darcy Mahoney, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.  "Our message is simple: 'talk with your baby'. It matters because 85 percent of all neurons are developed by age three. By simply including your baby in every-day conversations and talking to them about everything, you can drastically improve their chances of academic success. The more words that they hear as a baby, the smarter they become, and the better prepared they will be for reading by the end of third grade."

"What you say to babies, especially from ages 0-12 months has far reaching benefits," says Jennifer Stapel-Wax, PsyD, associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine and Director of Infant Toddler Clinical Operations at the Marcus Autism Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Children who don't get the number of words that they need are headed towards a trajectory of not reading on level by the third grade; and research shows that students not meeting third-grade level reading requirements are four to six times more likely to drop out. It's encouraging that our initiatives and other programs throughout the country are incorporating these practices before day one in order to approach these literacy barriers."