A Simple Message
"Our message is simple: Talk with your baby," Darcy-Mahoney said, noting that 85 percent of an individual’s neurons are developed by age 3. "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."
The White House has apparently gotten that message. Obama has identified "bridging the word gap" as a top early education priority, and his administration invited Darcy-Mahoney and about 50 other scholars, policymakers, and researchers to an October summit on the subject. In August 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a webinar about the Talk With Me Baby program. And the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has posted blogs—one in June and one in December—about it, too.
"We knew President Obama knew about Talk With Me Baby, but my colleagues and I were still surprised and excited to see that he highlighted this state initiative in his December speech," Darcy-Mahoney said, noting that the presidential-level attention has helped generate publicity for the program.
Several other initiatives are also aimed at narrowing the "word gap," but Talk With Me Baby is unique because it trains nurses—the nation’s frontline health care providers—to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of language in early childhood development. The program is sponsored by the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Nurses are in a key position to raise awareness about early language exposure, Darcy-Mahoney said. They are the largest segment of the health care workforce, and nursing is consistently ranked as the most trusted profession. Moreover, more than 99 percent of expectant and new parents and their children are seen by nurses.
"We aim to get nurses on-board delivering this message to families during their babies' first year of life," Darcy-Mahoney said. The program also educates nutritionists who work for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental food program and will later phase in early education professionals and other health care providers.