Providence Talks

Closing the word gap among young children

Ready to Learn Providence partners with Providence Talks to bring the innovative program to early childhood providers as well as families

TN_providencetalksProvidence Talks, funded with a $5 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks to close the word gap that exists between children who grow up in low-income households and their more affluent peers. It was the grand prize winner in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2012-2013 Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life.

Children need to hear approximately 21,000 words per day for their vocabularies to develop at an appropriate pace. But research has shown that children growing up in less affluent homes hear significantly fewer words each day than their peers in middle- and high-income households. In fact, by the time they reach their fourth birthday, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers.

providence_talks22-290x220-croppedThe Providence Talks model supports families of young children – birth to 3 – who volunteer to participate. Providence Talks provides them with coaching, books, information on community resources, and a word pedometer for their young child, all designed to measure and increase conversational interactions at home.

Early results demonstrate that simple access to information can be powerful. In one pilot study, caretakers presented with data on their child’s vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55% on average.

Bringing the program to early childhood educators

Ready to Learn, seeing the potential of this program with educators as well as families, worked in partnership with Providence Talks to revise the model and curriculum so that it meets the needs of center- and home-based educators who work with very young children. In the spring of 2016, it piloted the revised model with eight providers, and in the summer of 2016, it began offering the 20 hours of professional development to educators in both English and Spanish.

woman smiling croppedThe 20 hours includes 15 hours of class time and another five hours of individual work with facilitators over the course of two months. It is one of the few professional development offerings available to providers in Rhode Island that targets the language development of babies and toddlers rather than preschoolers.

The results from this first series were so remarkable that in 2017 Ready to Learn developed a second series for those who have completed the first.

“It’s a deeper dive into the importance of meaningful exchanges between adults and young children,” explains Leslie Gell, director of Ready to Learn Providence. “It’s about listening as much as talking.”

Currently Providence Talks is offered only to early childhood educators in Providence who work with infants and toddlers. To learn more about this program and upcoming classes, please call Leslie Gell, or email her at