Talk to Me Baby program focuses on language development

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Nurses may lead the way to making sure every child in Georgia reads on grade level by the end of third grade.
Channel 2's Fred Blankenship found out how a new program being tested at Emory University can give children the "language nutrition" they desperately need.
If you're a parent, you know that nurses are a big part of your baby's first year; maybe a bigger part than you think.
Experts say babies are sponges, and what they learn before they can even utter "goo-goo-ga-ga" might leave you speechless.
"Children who are spoken to more in early childhood have 30 million more words. They have had that many more words spoken to them in the first four years of life," said Jennifer Staple-Wax, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory.
Staple-Wax is also the director of infant and toddler clinical research at the Marcus Autism Center. She says her message is simple: What you say to babies, especially in the first 12 months, really matters.
"We know that if children do not get the number of words that they need they are heading for a trajectory of not reading on grade level by third grade, and children who do not read on grade level by third grade are 46 times more likely to drop out of school," Staple Wax told Channel 2's Fred Blankenship.
To save the teens, Staple-Wax says the goal now is to bolster the babies.
The Talk with Me Baby public awareness collaborative campaign is using a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the United Way to teach parents how to narrate to their children. More in-depth talking is thought to be key, and it all starts with a nurse.
"Interestingly in the United States, we deliver most of our babies in the hospital. Across the world that is not necessarily the case, so nurses touch a lot of families and a lot of babies," said Ashley Darcy Mahoney, an assistant professor at the Emory School of Nursing.
The Talk with Me Baby program will be rolled out at Emory in early November.
Mahoney will oversee around 500 nursing students who will be trained in the art of language nutrition. The goal is eventually for every nurse in the state to learn the teaching tool.
"It can be anything you can talk about, anything at all. "Happy birthday baby, Happy birthday baby boy Blankenship." That's exactly how they want to model it for those families so that families can see that we don't want to talk over the baby, we don't talk around the baby, we want to talk with the baby," said Mahoney.
"Once I learned, I started talking to my babies constantly," said mother Jasmine Hoffman.
Hoffman has been talking to her 11-month-old twins since birth.
She learned about the program because she works at Emory. Now, her conversations with her babies are designed to have real impact.
"We talk about everything, so we talk about food;, we talk about colors, shapes, activities. I describe the landscape outside when we are walking in the neighborhood," said Hoffman.
Nurses will start being trained at Emory Nov. 1. The first phase of the Talk with Me Baby program will be rolled out in 13 metro Atlanta counties at the largest birthing centers and expand from there.

The Talk with Me Baby collaborative is part of a group being invited to the White House in less than two weeks for an event called Bridging the Word Gap.