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Nine Takeaways from our “Talk, Tech and Teachings” Convening

Kara Dukakis, Director of Too Small to Fail
By Kara Dukakis, Director of Too Small to Fail

As Halloween descends, many families and neighborhoods across the country come together around the common tradition of trick or treating. But each celebration is different: one is in a multi-unit apartment building, another along a commercial strip, yet another in free-standing houses. Others don’t celebrate at all for cultural or safety reasons or a lack of resources. Each community and family is unique.

This is a founding principle of our community campaign work at Too Small to Fail, and one of the inspirations behind last year’s White House convening on “Bridging the Word Gap.” There, we promised to support community-driven efforts to spark positive change in parents and communities to boost early brain and language development in children beginning at birth. Through our Talking is Teaching pilots in Oakland and Tulsa, we’ve aided local efforts to tackle the word gap issue, and learned innovative new strategies that communities are using to empower families to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities for their children.

But we made another promise, too: to host a second meeting that brings together leaders from nonprofit, business, government, faith-based, health care and other community organizations committed to early literacy and language development.  

That’s why we were thrilled to partner with the George Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this month to co-host the Talk, Tech and Teachings” convening in Tulsa, OK, for a day of learning and collaboration. Together, we highlighted lessons learned and explored opportunities for shared work, with a special focus on the role of technology.Here are some of the highlights from the day.

Our nine favorite takeaways from “Talk, Tech and Teachings”

  1. Where you live does not determine where you go in life. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro kicked off the day by discussing how HUD is helping parents foster a home environment that’s more conducive to learning.
  2. Trusted messengers are empowering families to talk, read and sing together in different community touchpoints, from churches to hospitals. Check out this amazing video of Pastor Ray Owens delivering campaign messages during a baby dedication ceremony in his church.

  1. When it comes to reaching parents, creativity counts. We heard about messaging in laundromats and grocery stores, and in Kansas City, MO, in city water bills and every child’s birth certificate.

  1. Business leaders benefit, too! Representatives from local and national businesses shared the “value on investment” they get for supporting community campaigns: increased sales in a local grocery store chain, improved employee retention, and the chance to tackle their work through a new lens, like this transformed playground from Landscape Structures.

  1. Researchers emphasized that it’s not simply the quantity of words spoken to children, but also the quality of those interactions. To a developing brain, “The dog is barking” is more valuable than“Dog, dog, dog, dog.”

  1. The messages we share with families are really important, and one size does not fit all.  We have an incredible opportunity to use rich cultural examples to reach families where they are. For example, Abriendo Puertas / Opening Doors developed their own version of a popular Mexican bingo game for parents in which answers to questions posed reinforce the importance of reading, counting and going to the library.

  1. Parents (and their kids!) are the secret sauce. Every parent wants the best for their child, and they like to know they have the power to build their child’s brains.

  1. Text messages and video can be a powerful way to reach and engage parents. A new organization called NuturePA connects new moms with mentors, who send text messages with tips and advice in real-time, tailored to what the mom is struggling with.

  2. Collaboration is key. After reviewing our Community Campaign Guide, one of the attendees approached us and asked, “What’s the catch?” There isn’t one! You know your community best. That’s why we’re committed to providing communities with the tools to launch their own campaigns or enhance early literacy work that’s already happening on the ground.

What’s next?

It’s critically important for Too Small to Fail’s next steps to be responsive to community needs, so please let us know what will be helpful.  Based on feedback from the convening, in the near-term we plan to:

  • Support and provide guidance to new campaigns launching across the country in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Columbus, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and NYC.

  • Continue to explore innovative ways to reach parents through technology.

  • Continue to build out our toosmall.org/community page with new resources.

  • Make connections across sites to share on-the-ground best practices and lessons learned.

We hope we can continue to push each other, learn from our own and others’ successes, make challenges opportunities, and continue to evolve, innovate, and partner.