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Parents Are Our First Teachers

Talking is teaching.

For some time we’ve known that if we talk with our kids, especially when they are very young, we can increase their vocabulary. More recently, thanks to groundbreaking research and nifty new technology, we’ve learned that early talk not only builds vocabulary, it builds the brain by creating neuron connections that can actually make kids smarter.

So why don’t all parents spend time talking with their kids? There are lots of reasons. Parents are stretched for time, and many work two jobs. More children are raised in single-parent households than ever before. Parents and kids increasingly spend time glued to media devices. And, in some cases, parents just don’t know the true value of talking with their very young children.

The result of so many children not hearing enough words from birth through their toddler years is that many kids are now unprepared to begin school, and don’t have the vocabulary or cognitive skills that will help them succeed in life.

This is the reason that our Too Small to Fail initiative has joined with Univision in a unique partnership. “Pequeños y Valiosos” will leverage Univision’s incredible assets to give Hispanic parents and caregivers the information they need to help close the word gap and prepare their children for success.

We kicked off the partnership this week at a bilingual Head Start preschool program in East Harlem, with a great event that featured our Too Small partner Hillary Clinton, Univision CEO Randy Falco, Univision anchor Barbara Bermudo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, American Academy of Pediatrics chief Dr. Errol Alden, and many others. This was a rare event that managed to be thoughtful, informative and fun. 

In the research we conducted and reviewed while designing this campaign, we learned a few things. One of the most notable is that not all parents have gotten the memo about early talk; in focus groups lower income parents expressed surprise when told that talking to their babies from birth builds vocabulary and develops the brain. We also learned that Univision holds a special place in the hearts of its viewers—it is one of their most trusted sources for news and information.

Our multi-year partnership with Univision will involve all of their media platforms, as well as community events nationwide. Their commitment is to be applauded, and our work with them promises to be rewarding.

So What’s Next? New partnerships will be announced soon, as well as local campaigns that will drill deeper and serve as models for how to more fully engage parents and caregivers. Stay tuned.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Ann O’Leary, Stephen Massey, Anastasia Ordonez and the rest of the Next Generation team who worked so hard to make this happen.  As in all organizations, our people are our most valuable asset and I am fortunate to have incredibly talented and capable colleagues (who are also fun!).  We also have a great group of funding colleagues and partner organizations. You will learn more about them in a future “What’s Next.”

Finally, for those who read last week’s What’s Next, an update – it is raining in California, with Northern California getting its first significant precipitation of this rainy season. This will by no means break our drought – but for now, we are all feeling like this little girl in a video that has been flying around our office. We will enjoy it while we can (and keep on conserving!)

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