In 1995, research by Betty Hart and Todd Risley estimated that low-income children heard a staggering 30 million fewer words than their higher income peers. To fill this gap, the two argued, an intervention would have to address “not just a lack of knowledge or skill, but an entire general approach to experience.” We wrote about their work here.

Now the city of Providence is launching “Providence Talks,” an effort to give preschool-aged children an abundance of words using a grand prize award of $5 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge program, part of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charitable giving.

This is encouraging news about a project that bears watching.

Providence is going to give children devices that will record their conversations with adults and measure how many words they hear per day. Parents will receive feedback on their children’s speech and coaching on how they can increase their children’s exposure to an enriching world of new words. The city will work with social service agencies and Brown University to develop a full implementation plan.

“We believe these data will be useful for city managers as well,” Providence Mayor Angel Taveras writes on the Huffington Post. “Aggregate data on block and neighborhood level household auditory environments would allow us to direct existing early childhood resources with a level of precision and thoughtfulness never before possible.”

With this award, Providence continues to show its commitment to early learning. Last summer, it also won an All-America City Award from the National Civic League for its work ensuring that “more children are proficient readers by the end of third grade.” And last fall saw the launch of Providence Reads, a program supported by businesses and organizations to increase grade-level reading.