TOO SMALL TO FAIL

Too Small to Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, promotes the importance of early brain and language development and to empower parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth. Through partnerships with pediatricians, hospitals, faith-based leaders, community based organizations, businesses, entertainment industry leaders, and others, Too Small to Fail is meeting parents where they are to help them prepare their children for success in school and beyond. Whether at the pediatrician's office or the playground, Too Small to Fail aims to make small moments big by creating opportunities for meaningful interactions anytime, anywhere.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

Thank you so much, today, to Nicki for joining us as the Senior Associate from Too Small to Fail.  She is here to talk about the program Teaching is Talking.  Can you explain the origins of this program and what you’re trying to do in terms of creating literacy opportunities in areas that may be considered book deserts?

 

Nicki

Absolutely.  More than half of children in the United States start kindergarten unprepared, lagging behind their peers in critical language, math, and social/emotional skills.  These are skills that they need for success later in life.  Too Small to Fail, the early childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation, was started in 2013 to address that issue.  We know that simple everyday interactions with young children, like describing objects seen during a bus ride or walk, singing songs, telling stories, can build children’s vocabularies.  It can prepare them for school and it lays a strong foundation for lifelong learning.  Every conversation, every interaction, every hug that parents or caregivers share with their child really makes a difference in their child’s life.  Since 2013, Too Small to Fail has worked to promote the importance of early brain and language development and to empower parents with tools to talk, read, and sign with their young children from birth.  We lead a national public awareness and action campaign called Talking is Teaching…talk, read, sing.  Through that campaign, we’re not only working to inform parents about the ways that they can build their child’s brain by talking, reading and singing during everyday moments, but we’re also working to give parents the high quality tools and resources that they need to do that.

 

Molly Ness

Talk to us about some of those tools.  All of us as parents want the best for our children and we are given the advice to read to our children, but what are some of those concrete tools that Talking is Teaching provides to parents to create these literacy-rich environments that hopefully better prepare our kids for the academic expectations and be ready to enter kindergarten as early readers?

 

Nicki

It’s a great question.  I think the first tool is books.  We have distributed over a million books through Talking is Teaching through all of our national partnerships since 2013.  I would say that would be one of the biggest resources that we distribute and create.  The other high quality tools and resources could include a tote bag with conversation prompts on it, a little Talking is Teaching onesie that can say let’s talk about hands and feet and can give parents an idea of how they can talk with their child while doing a diaper change or just playing together.  Some may include a little puppet so that parents can play with their child in a fun way.  Some of it will really just depend on the space.  Those are some examples, but there are lots of resources that we’ve distributed to help parents help their children.

 

Molly Ness

I wanted to pick up a little bit on the importance of your focus on oral language and that every moment can be a learning moment for children.  I have a fourth-grade daughter.  When it was time to shop for strollers when I was pregnant we went to the local baby store and my daughter’s father was more interested in those shock absorbers and turning radius.  I had just read a research article that showed that kids who have strollers that are casing the caregiver as opposed to strollers that face away from the caregiver there tends to be a lot more language interaction.  He’s looking at the bells and whistles and I am it has to be facing me so my child can get oral language.  I know about that research and obviously I put a lot of value in it.  Too many parents, I think, don’t necessarily know the importance of language.  Once we know better, we can do better.  How do you translate that message that every moment is a teachable moment through oral language and through talking?  Give us a better sense of that.

 

Nicki

Sure.  Our whole campaign is called Talking is Teaching…talk, read, sing.  Like I mentioned we’re a public awareness and action campaign, so the first step to that is doing what we can to make sure that parents are aware that just talking with your baby can make such a huge difference in their ability to learn and their success later in life.  It doesn’t have to be this huge elaborate thing, it can be, like you said, walking in the stroller and just narrating…oh, do you see that bus, let’s count the wheels on it together, or how many cars can we see, what color is the sky…narrating your day.  These are all…the way that children learn language is through hearing and language and through quality back and forth interactions from birth.  We do our best to let parents know that talking is teaching; talking builds brains.  Singing is teaching.  We did a study recently…can we pause there?  Singing is teaching.  We have done some research and found that a lot of parents know that talking and reading with your children is important, but they don’t necessarily get that by singing songs they can also support their child’s early learning.  It doesn’t only have to be nursery rhymes.  Nursery rhymes are great, but even just listening to the radio with your child and singing your favorite song…shaking their hands and bouncing up and down together, having a dance party…that’s all a way to support children’s learning.  Our goal is to do what we can to let parents know that.  We’ve worked through media space to integrate Talking is Teaching messaging and to shows in Hollywood.  We worked in shows like Jane the Virgin, Doc McStuffins, Law and Order SVU, to not only show parents that…find ways to show parents that talking is teaching….find says to show parents that by talking with their baby or singing with their baby, they can help their baby learn, but also show concrete examples of how they can do that because it’s one thing to say talk with your baby, it’s another thing to be able to say here is how you can talk with your baby in a way that can help them learn.  So aim through those shows to model to parents how they can do that.

 

Molly Ness

That’s what I love so much about your approach.  As parents who are always given the message that we should be reading with our children, many parents either are not comfortable reading in the academic language of their child’s schooling.  They are not proficient English readers themselves, or they are just not comfortable reading, so that doesn’t always happen as much as we know it’s important, but everyone can talk to their child and everyone can understand that a trip to the grocery store can be a literacy-rich experience.  When we say can you help me find a fruit that’s yellow, or can you count the number of apples that we put into our basket.  I love that you’re giving this concrete modeling and really helping all parents regardless of their educational background, regardless of their linguistic background, know that this is something that they can do, and know that it’s something that they can really do to prepare their kids for language and literacy and learning.

 

Nicki

Absolutely.  I mean, we really want to empower parents and make them feel like they’re doing a great job because parenting is really hard, but there are really easy steps that they can take to make a difference in their child’s life.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  It doesn’t have to be difficult.  It can be something that they’re doing during everyday moments, that they’re already doing anyway, and so those opportunities…or those moments are great opportunities to help their child learn.

 

Molly Ness

I know some of your work is transforming everyday spaces where parents and families and children interact so that people begin to understand the power of language-rich environments.  Like, the example of the grocery store that I just gave.  If you were to walk into these spaces, what would you see as a parent and where do these spaces exist?

 

Nicki

Every space looks a little bit different, but…for example, in a laundromat we have created with our partners at the Coin Laundry Association and the LaundryCares Foundation family read, play, and learn spaces.  These spaces are meant to go into laundromats…were originally meant to go into laundromats.  They have little chairs and seating and couches that parents can cuddle in together.  They have books and toys.  There are posters and conversation prompts that are put throughout the laundromat environment so that parents can not only learn…parents and children can not only read in their family read, play, and learn space, but there is an opportunity throughout the entire environment to learn because the laundromat is kind of like a little museum for children.  There is counting involved.  There are coins.  You can talk about the sounds and the noise and the smells.  Those are all things that are naturally occurring in the laundromat environment that can help children learn.  We originally created the family read, play, and learn spaces to go in laundromats, but they are really spaces that can be adaptable to other environments.  We are working to put them into WIC clinic.  So, in WIC clinics there might be some more nutrition-themed books or posters.  We’re working to put them into family courts, and the family court environment will have family court-specific posters and might have books that are a little bit more focused on social/emotional learning.  Every space can be tailored a little bit differently, but with the family ready, play, and learn spaces the key components are really some sort of seating, books, and then posters with conversation prompts.  You can add a little bit more depending on space or what you are able to invest into that space.

 

Molly Ness

I love the idea of laundromats becoming these little literacy hubs.  In a previous podcast we talked with some organizations that were doing that because the research around laundromats shows that most people return to the same laundromat time and time again.  You’ve sort of got a captive audience.  If anybody thinks back to their time doing laundry, either in their apartment basement or maybe in a college dorm, you know that you’re sitting there for a couple hours waiting to change over your laundry.  It’s such a prime and ripe opportunity to create these spaces that are inviting for kids and that parents can engage with their kid and use it as a learning environment.  I just love that work so much.  I am wondering if you can tell us a little bit about your impact that you’re starting to see and where you see the program going in the future.

 

Nicki

Absolutely.  For our impact we…as I mentioned before we’ve distributed over one million books through families in the U.S. in spaces like hospitals, laundromats, WIC clinics, and through partners like the National Diaper Bank Network and the National Black Child Development Institute.  We’ve integrated early literacy with messaging and resources in over 5,000 laundromats, in 500 playgrounds, through our partnership with Univision where we have integrated some modeling on how to talk with your child.  We have a text messaging program where parents can receive biweekly texts from a Univision anchor.  We’ve had 785 million viewer impressions.  In our evaluation space we have findings from hospitals that show that parents report that they were talking, reading, and singing more after receiving Talking is Teaching materials from their pediatrician.  We’ve done research in laundromats.  This research was actually done by Dr. Susan Newman.  We found that in laundromats with our family read, play, and learn spaces children participated in 30 times more literacy activities than laundromats without these spaces.  Beyond just the metrics and the evaluation results, I think a big part for me that’s great to hear about the impact is to hear directly from the parents who…parents and caregivers…who have been in these spaces.  In one of our laundromats in Queens we had…sorry.  In one of our laundromats in New Orleans we had a mother say to us we don’t get spaces like this here, this makes me feel like my children matter and makes me feel like I matter.  We’ve also in one of our recent events in a health clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…no…in one of our family court events we had a mother say to us that beyond the library this space that we created is one of the only places in her community that she can find books for her children.  Hearing directly from parents and children and people who are impacted by the work is especially great for us.  It’s beyond just the metrics and the evaluation results.

 

Molly Ness

What’s ahead for you guys?

 

Nicki

We’re continuing to expand and scale our family read, play, and learn spaces into other informal environments across the country.  Our goal is to have these spaces into 600 laundromats by the end of 2020.  We’re also working on a pilot project to integrate the family read, play, and learn spaces in WIC clinics in Baltimore.  If the results are positive, we’ll work with our partners at the National WIC Association to scale these spaces into other WIC clinics across the country.  We’re also working in new places, like social service agencies and family courts.  That would be one part of our future plans.  The other would just be continuing to build the evidence base for the work that we’re doing to learn more about how we can most effectively reach families with young children.  We have ongoing evaluations of our work in laundromats, playgrounds, and WIC clinics; and the results of these studies really inform our work moving forward.

 

Molly Ness

My ears perked up at the mention of Baltimore, which is my hometown, and a city that is really doing a lot in terms of building a sustainable literacy culture.  Listeners will probably be familiar with the One Book Baltimore and the Enoch Pratt Free Library podcast that we featured earlier because really amazing things are going on in Baltimore.  What advice would you give to parents who might be listening out there and saying, wow, I didn’t know the importance of language; I didn’t know how much I could do…I sort of thought I could send my child to school and that they would be ready to become a reader just because of school instruction?  What would you say to parents out there who obviously are well-intentioned and just need more information?

 

Nicki

Absolutely.  I think the first thing I’d say is just that learning begins at birth.  Every opportunity that you have is a great opportunity to help your child learn.  It can happen at any moment.  It can happen in any place.  It doesn’t have to wait until children are in school and five because so much of a child’s brain is developed by the time that they start school.  Starting as early as possible is a great way to help prepare your children for school.  If you already have children who are in school, just take advantage of that time together now moving forward…talk together, read together, sing together…because children’s brains are constantly growing and children are constantly learning.

 

Molly Ness

In the spirit of constantly learning and growing, I am hoping that I can turn the microphone on you and have you tell us about a book that has really had a profound impact on you; a book from your past or present that continues to resonate with you.  The reason I do this is because I very much believe that increasing book access also is building a reading culture and showcasing our reading identities and thinking through books that resonate with us.  What is that book that continues to impact you?

 

Nicki

I am actually going to cheat a little bit and say two.

 

Molly Ness

When it comes to books, you’re allowed to cheat.

 

Nicki

Great.  The first is Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.  This is a story that my mom and I read together countless times when I was a child.  When I think…doing this work I think about reading with children a lot.  When I think of my own childhood memories of cuddling up and sharing a book, this book is it.  It’s all about a parent rabbit…I think it’s a hare, actually…and their child and them talking just how much they love each other, sharing love and being open about love.  The last line of the book is basically I love you to the moon and back.  My mom and I just repeated that to each other all the time when I was growing up.  So, that one definitely has a special place in my heart.  The second is Chronical of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I read this book in my senior year of high school and it was actually the first book I think I had read by a Latin American author possibly ever, but definitely in an academic setting.  It just completely changed my literacy course.  It opened up a whole new world of Latin American writers and authors of magical realism.  It was just an awe-inspiring novel and opened up the other works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who happens to be my favorite author now.  This was the first book I read from them and it’s definitely very special for me.

 

Molly Ness

Obviously, as a parent of a young child have read the first book, and that line I love you to the moon and back is certainly something that we say in our house a lot, and I know that many people have stolen that fabulous language…great example of how kids learn vocabulary and learn language just through storybook reading.  The second one, I have not read yet.  I will have to add it to my growing list of books to list; that stack that is now like a tumbling tower next to my bedside table.  I know listeners are going to want to find out more information about the work of Too Small to Fail and Talking is Teaching, so I will direct them to the End Book Deserts website so that we can share out some of those resources and find out how parents can get involved, find out how communities can get involved, and help all of us understand that addressing literacy isn’t just something that happens during school hours and during school years, but it’s really something that we all can play a role in from the very start of our children’s lives and so much at home.  Thank you for the work you’re doing with Too Small to Fail and Talking is Teaching, and thank you for your time today.

 

Nicki

Thank you.