PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Amid a political push for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds, a growing number of experts fear that such programs actually start too late for the children most at risk. That is why Deisy Ixcuna-González, the 16-month-old daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, is wearing a tiny recorder that captures every word she hears and utters inside her family’s cramped apartment one day a week.
Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor. So the recorder acts as a tool for instructing Deisy’s parents on how to turn even a visit to the kitchen into a language lesson. It is part of an ambitious campaign, known as Providence Talks, that is aimed at the city’s poorest residents and intended to reduce the knowledge gap long before school starts. It is among a number of such efforts being undertaken throughout the country.
“When she grabs your hand and brings you to the refrigerator and points to the cabinet, that is an opportunity for you to say, ‘Deisy, are you hungry? You want cereal? Let’s go look for the cereal,’ ” Stephanie Taveras, a Providence Talks home visitor who also works with Early Head Start, told Deisy’s mother in Spanish. “You do the responding for her now until she has the vocabulary, and she will be hearing you.”
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