Strengthening Children's Lives Through Science and Community Engagement

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Improve early childhood health and development
Language and Communication

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TALK Around Town: A Mobile App to Bridge the Word Gap

Bigelow, K.;
Irvin, D.



Parent-delivered interventions have been shown to be an effective strategy for closing the thirty-million word gap experienced by young children of families living in poverty. An often-cited challenge in parenting interventions, however, is the consistent use of those interventions beyond the home visit (Korfmacher et al, 2008). While parents may participate in home visits, they may not always implement new strategies in their day-to-day interactions with their young children (Wagner et al., 2003). To address this challenge, we propose the development of a mobile application to extend the reach of parent coaching beyond home visits, and into the community settings families frequently visit, such as grocery stores and restaurants. Our team is developing and testing the TALK Around Town mobile application and online web portal, an easy-to-use, engaging, and collaborative application that provides real-time, location-specific prompts that help parents use evidence-based communication promoting strategies in community settings. This application will be used in the context of Early Head Start home visits, in which home visitors provide coaching on the Promoting Communication (PC) Strategies. The PC Strategies are naturalistic language strategies that fit into parents’ daily lives and have been shown to promote high rates of child communication growth when implemented with high fidelity (Walker, Bigelow et al, 2014). The mobile application, when accessed by home visitors and installed on parents’ smartphones, will utilize GPS functionality to trigger the online web-portal to send out real-time, setting-specific messages to the parent, offering individualized suggestions for how to use the PC Strategies in parent-selected settings (“waypoints”), when they are actually within that setting. When parents learn to implement new skills across settings for promoting child communication, these skills are more likely to generalize to new settings and be maintained over time.​

The proposed randomized controlled trial will examine the benefits of adding cell phone technology to an intervention that has been shown to result in an increase in the fidelity with which parents use language promoting strategies, and in improving child language outcomes. The proposed study will examine how cellular phones can be used within a home visiting program to (1) improve parent participation and engagement, and (2) increase the dosage and thus, enhance the effectiveness of the language promoting intervention in improving child language outcomes through an increase in the frequency with which parents implement the strategies. The language promoting intervention will be implemented by home visitors within two Early Head Start home visiting programs, and intervention coaches will provide mentoring and coaching to the home visitors on implementation of the language promoting intervention. Families will be recruited when children are 12 months of age, and following initial assessments, intervention will be embedded within home visits until children are 30 months of age.


Congratulations to doctoral student Anna Wallisch, the second recipient of the Vance & Marilyn Hall GRA Award! Anna…