Moonshot question: how can we effectively narrow the vocabulary gap between low and high SES preschool-aged children to lessen long term effects.

We were thinking about two different solutions. The first is an afterschool program that would help encourage conversation through one on one tutoring with adults. Our other idea had to do with technology. We were thinking about an app with interactive audio books or maybe a chatbot that could speak to children.

Dr. Mackey told us that data shows that major SES gaps are present by age 4. This means that after school programs might be too late to have a large impact. In addition, she supplied us with a lot of resources on some of the programs being done today. All of these programs involved the parents of the children, indicating the importance of incorporating the parents’ attention into the child’s language development. We are considering options that could impact younger aged children and involve more parental engagement. One such program that does this was brought to our attention by Dr. Jaffee.

Dr. Jaffee mentioned initiatives like Early Head Start that are similar to the after school program we proposed. However, these programs start much earlier and therefore are more effective. Early Head Start provides kids from low SES as young as one years old with a free preschool program that provides school readiness education. However, Early Head Start is not perfect. There are not enough locations to provide every low SES child with an accessible location and not that many parents are aware of this program. Therefore, moving forward if we continue to focus on our afterschool program idea we would work to make Early Head Start more accessible. This would include an awareness campaign for parents and a push  to increase the federal funding of Early Head Start to increase the number of locations.

One piece of feedback we got on our interactive app idea from Dr. Jaffee is that there might be a potential for the children to miss out on the shared experience of having a shared conversation with an adult. One problem with audiobooks is that they don’t facilitate conversational turns between the child and the reader, a part of conversation that is crucial for language development. If it was possible to develop a technology that was able to pose questions and create conversational turns, it might be a helpful addition to normal parent-child reading, especially in low SES homes where parents might have less time to sit down and read with their kids.