Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Zero to Three, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit, has launched a promising, new web portal called “Beyond the Word Gap.” It’s a collection of multimedia resources and tools that help support the development of language and learning in early relationships.

“The ‘Word Gap’ has come to symbolize the gulf that can separate very young children who have rich opportunities for positive early learning experiences from those who do not,” Zero to Three says on its website, adding, “early language and literacy skills are important predictors of later success in school—and that as a group, children in families of lower socioeconomic means have fewer skills and know far fewer words than their more privileged peers.”

The word gap was vividly illustrated by the famous Hart Risley study, which found that by age 3, lower income children hear 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers.

“How does our country close the word gap?” Zero to Three asks. “Babies are driven to communicate to let the trusted adults in their lives know what they need, think, and feel. Developing language and literacy skills is about more than just hearing and learning words. It is about the social, back-and-forth communication that takes place through everyday interactions with parents, families, and caregivers which builds not only babies’ language skills, but also their thinking skills and their self-esteem.”

The portal features podcasts and apps as well as videos, graphics, research findings, curriculum, and other resources in English and Spanish.

Among these is Zero to Three’s “Let’s Play” free mobile app that can be downloaded from iTunes or the Google Play Store.

“Let’s Play provides parents and grandparents with fun ideas for keeping babies and toddlers entertained and learning, especially during daily routines like commuting time, chores, bedtime and bathtime, mealtime, and shopping. All of the activities reflect children’s typical skills at each age and are designed to support development in the context of play and family routines.”

Another fascinating resource is the baby brain map, an interactive tool that illustrates how young children’s brains function at different ages and explains what this means for caregivers. For example, babies hear their mothers voice before birth. And once they’re born, they are fascinated by “the basic speech sounds of language.” So parents should be sure to talk to babies during caregiving because “at this point the baby is most attracted to the sound, pitch, and rhythm of your voice.”

Zero to Three will also be releasing “Babies on the Homefront,” a mobile app “specifically for military and veteran parents of young children.” Supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the app “offers an array of written and video information to share with families, including behavior tips, parent-child activities, and parental self-care strategies.”

And the podcast “Little Kids, Big Questions” is a series that “translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers, and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family.”

Zero to Three also has a Facebook page that provides quick, handy facts on young children’s development as well as links to other resources. And it’s easy to follow along on Twitter via @ZEROTOTHREE.

So please use and share these new resources. Closing the word gap will have a huge benefit for children and for the world that they grow up to build.